Angel di Maria’s departure from Real Madrid in the summer transfer window was directly linked with the arrival of James Rodriguez.
The Colombia international attacker was one of the stars at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, as he won the Golden Boot while leading his country to the quarter-finals of the tournament.
Madrid signed Rodriguez from AS Monaco for a reported transfer fee of £63 million and sold Di Maria to Manchester United for £59.7m.
The decision to sell the Argentina international winger was criticised by many – after all, last season he was better and more important than Gareth Bale, and was on fire at the World Cup.
And Di Maria’s absence was felt in the opening weeks of the 2014-15 season, as Madrid collapsed against Real Sociedad and lost to Atletico Madrid. The holes left by the 26-year-old and Xabi Alonso (who moved to Bayern Munich) have not been entirely filled, but Rodriguez has turned on the style after a slightly underwhelming start to the season and coach Carlo Ancelotti is gradually getting his new system right.
The 23-year-old Colombian is not a direct replacement for Di Maria and has been played down the middle as well as on the wide. A number 10, he is more of a replacement for Mesut Ozil (who left for Arsenal last summer), but a statistical comparison between him and Di Maria would suggest that there is not a great deal of difference between the starts they have made in their respective new clubs.
Di Maria has scored three goals and has provided as many assists in five Premier League appearances. He has created 16 chances, has just 40% shot accuracy and 81% pass accuracy.
As for Madrid’s Rodriguez, he has scored only one goal and has provided two assists in seven La Liga appearances. He has also created 16 chances and has just 40% shot accuracy, but he has a better pass accuracy rate than Di Maria – 89%.
Interestingly, Rodriguez has won 50% of his duels, while Di Maria has won 47%. Di Maria has featured in two fewer matches, which means that his goals, assists and chances created stats are much more impressive than Rodriguez.
There is no doubt that at this moment in time Di Maria is a much better player than Rodriguez. He is a world-class star who can play as a winger and as an attacking midfielder, and can adapt himself and is ready to work hard defensively.
But his Madrid replacement seems to be getting on just fine. Rodriguez recently spoke about his determination to achieve what Di Maria achieved at Madrid, and seems willing to work hard and is humble.
At 23, Rodriguez certainly has time on his hands to develop and improve himself further, just as Di Maria did during his four years at Madrid.