Angel Di Maria’s debut season has been something of a mixed blessing. Kevin Levingston takes a look at the situation…
In a nutshell; Angel Di Maria is having a disappointing season. Predicted to have taken the Premier League by storm; the Argentine has instead provided light drizzle with the occasional thunderclap or heavy shower. A bright start gave way to inconsistent form, the attacker struggling for consistency in an ever-changing and imbalanced United team. The midseason arch-pragmatism didn’t help. He has appeared a long way off his best on a number of occasions. Mitigating circumstances on and off the field all played their role; Di Maria’s season reaching it’s nadir with a needless sending off in the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal in March. Initially suspended, he then would have to make do with a place on the bench for the next four games; a position he held for last weekend’s trip to Stamford Bridge. The Angel of the North West would not have predicted such struggles when he pitched up in Manchester last July.
Despite erratic performances, the Argentine has still had a significant impact on Manchester United’s season; scoring three, assisting ten and creating a further thirty-eight chances in just twenty-four league appearances for the Reds. Like so many other top players he has the ability to be well below his best and still make a vital contribution. For all his struggles there is not another player in the Manchester United team that can compete with him for creativity. The prospect of Di Maria’s potential contributions were he to regain top form are simply mouth-watering.
There have been mitigating circumstances at play that go some of the way to explaining why things have not quite come together for the Argentine. Adjusting to a higher level of physicality in the premier league has had an impact. United fans must also accept that whilst the player may well have been happy enough to join the Reds; initially he had no desire whatsoever to leave Real Madrid. Add in the culture shock of moving to a new city and country – only to have your home burgled – and things begin to make a little more sense. And yet Di Maria managed a better contribution than most until his suspension made way for a reborn Ashley Young and re-energised Juan Mata to come in and claim both wing positions for themselves. Impressive wins against Tottenham, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester City followed and the team remained mostly unchanged.
And yet there have been signs of life. He has been lively in a number of substitute appearances in this recent run of games; an assist for Wayne Rooney’s strike against Aston Villa being of particular note. It has been more the performances of Young, Mata and co. that have kept the Argentine out of the team than any failing on Di Maria’s part specifically. In truth it would have been quite unfair to drop players in such a good run of form. You sense he will understand this, and be determined to take his own chance when it comes.
Despite recent form; there is an air of inevitability around Di Maria’s return to the United side. Messrs Young and Fellaini in particular have been playing at their peak level in recent weeks, yet neither approach the Argentine’s overall ability. The Chelsea game in particular showed that the fortification of the stronger teams sometimes require a locksmith in lieu of a battering ram and Di Maria possesses that something special to break such teams down. When he finally gets his chance he will be starting in a settled and performing team for the first time in his Manchester United career. Such is his character that he will be eager to ensure it’s not a temporary dalliance.
Nonsense rumours of the player being unsettled have given way to positive noises from the Di Maria camp in recent weeks. The player is in the market for a new house closer to Carrington and his fellow team mates. The consensus is that neither the player nor the club have any intention of giving up on each other yet. This is not surprising. For Manchester United and Mr Van Gaal; Di Maria is the kind of player you build your team around. It would be negligent to do anything else. The player that ran the show for Champions League winners Real Madrid less than a year ago has not disappeared overnight. As the cliché goes; this cream will inevitably rise to the top. That he will be in a Manchester United shirt when he gets there is something all Reds can rejoice in.
You can follow Kevin on twitter @Kev_CTS.