Manchester United’s club record signing Angel di Maria seemed like he was going to provide the spark that the Reds had been missing under David Moyes.
His start to life at United was good, scoring goals and recording assists as the team starting to string together some good results against the likes of QPR and Everton. However, back to back injuries hampered his promising start and a spell on the sidelines followed. Now that he is back form injury, it seems Louis van Gaal does not quite know what Di Maria’s best position is.
In the defeat to Southampton, the 26-year-old was deployed up front alongside Robin van Persie. You can see his thinking. The pace that Di Maria has can stretch any team’s defence and poses a huge threat on the counter-attack. He was played in the same position in the latters stages of the away victory against Arsenal, notching an assist in the process but is this his best position? No.
Di Maria’s pace, trickery and quick feet make him a nightmare for a defender when he is running at them with the ball. His delivery from wide areas is unparalleled and the fact he recorded the most assists in any league in 2014 attests to that. While playing up front, he does not get the opportunity to showcase the best parts of his game.
“The defeat to Southampton might be the time for Van Gaal to realise that it is his system, not the players, that is the problem.”
Instead of taking on defenders, he is playing on their shoulder. Instead of delivering crosses, he is the one trying to get on the end of them. It just isn’t working. Van Gaal successfully used Arjen Robben in a similar role for the Netherlands at the World Cup but it doesn’t seem that Di Maria can perform in the same capacity.
It is a problem that has started to make its way through the squad. Players are being played out of position to fit a system that Van Gaal has brought to the club. Wayne Rooney is playing in midfield, Luke Shaw is playing at wing-back and we have seen Michael Carrick do a job at centre-half. The defeat to Southampton might be the time for Van Gaal to realise that it is his system, not the players, that is the problem.
Many United supporters are calling for a diamond to be used in midfield. Of course, the manager will have to drop some big names if he does decide to go with this formation but one person he cannot afford to replace is Di Maria. Playing Di Maria as a left central midfielder in a midfield diamond would be his ideal position. It gives him the freedom of choosing to go wide and deliver crosses or even go through the middle and go for goal himself.
“Van Gaal successfully used Arjen Robben in a similar role for the Netherlands at the World Cup but it doesn’t seem that Di Maria can perform in the same capacity.”
Not since the days of Cristiano Ronaldo at United have the Old Trafford faithful had a player who really gets them on the edge of their seats. When Di Maria picks up the ball, there is always a feeling that something is going to happen and rightly so. With that in mind, let’s hope that Van Gaal plays him where he will see much more of the ball. If he does, there is no doubt that the Argentine will repay his trust.