Angel Di Maria enjoyed an incredible start to life at Old Trafford, scoring three goals and creating four more in his first six games. However, the player that looked like a shoe-in for the Player of the Year award has failed to match that promise in the succeeding months, scoring just once with five assists in the following 17 fixtures.
Arriving in Manchester as arguably the best midfielder in Europe, with a strong World Cup campaign behind him and the Man of the Match title in Real Madrid’s Champions League success, the 27-year-old was expected to be the big star in United’s push for the top four - with title success still not a real goal.
At a price of £59.7 million, as per the BBC, many would expect Di Maria to be the best player in the entire Premier League, but, aside from those first few weeks, the Argentine international has looked far from that title - for many reasons.
Personal issues have plagued his settling in Manchester, with his house broken into, whilst on the field of play he is being used as a central midfielder in a slow, defensive system - a system that he is not suited for.
Breaking onto the scene with Benfica in the 2009-10 season, Di Maria was utilised as left winger, and the most attacking force in the starting XI. Ramires - now of Chelsea - patrolled the opposite flank in a defensive winger role, and Di Maria was allowed to join the attacks with Oscar Cardozo. He ended up scoring 10 goals for the side who registered 124 strikes in all competitions, and his pace and trickery destroyed defences all across Portugal.
It was this season that earned him his move to Madrid, and he carried on playing well, this time on the right wing. With the arrival of Gareth Bale, Di Maria only kept his place in the side by moving to a more central midfield role, creating attacks from deep by utilising the space created ahead of him by the movement of Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. He enjoyed a remarkable season, and that is how he arrived at United.
Playing in various positions all across the front line and in midfield, Di Maria looked his best in the early weeks when head coach Louis van Gaal favoured attacking flair over defensive solidity. United shipped a lot of goals, but scored a lot too, and the Argentine was central to that.
However, van Gaal had to change things around to ensure United kept pace at the top of the Premier League, and he dropped Di Maria into the centre of a four-man midfield, stifling play to ease the pressure on the defence. It has worked for United from a results standpoint, but the football has been far from enjoyable to watch, and Di Maria has suffered.
Without the movement ahead of him, with the strike partnership often dropping into the midfield third to help out, Di Maria is forced to linger on the ball, and he does not posses the game intelligence to create attacks without running forward. For all his good qualities, his passing is just not good enough to convert him into something of a static playmaker - and United need him at full strength if they want to impress.
The 5-3 loss to Leicester City was arguably Di Maria’s best game for United, but the result was van Gaal’s worst - in the Premier League at least. That game showed the differences between player and coach, and why the winger cannot fit into van Gaal’s current system. If United truly intend to see the best of Di Maria, the Dutchman needs to forget about defensive stability and allow Di Maria to exploit the chaos around him to the best effect.