Angel Di Maria will still deliver but Savage was right in criticism

Angel di María
Angel Di Maria’s Manchester United form has dwindled in the past few months

Match of the day pundit Robbie Savage launched a scathing attack on Manchester United and in particular Angel Di Maria, following the 2-1 defeat away at Swansea City. The club’s record signing at £59.7 million has struggled to deliver in the last few months, despite the impressive start he made at Old Trafford. The Argentine has only netted three times in the league this season and his last goal came back in October against Everton. For a player of his exceptional talent and ability, that simply isn’t good enough and his withdrawal from proceedings yesterday highlights just how out of form and low on confidence United’s number seven is at the moment.

Savage is paid for his opinion, whether you agree with him or not, but it would be hard to argue against his assessment of Di Maria and United’s general play. The ex Real Madrid man is world class, who can take players on for fun – but United are currently not seeing anywhere near a performance that warrants a world class tag. Di Maria was of course named man of the match in the Champions League Final last season, overshadowing Cristiano Ronaldo in the process – so why is he currently not reaching that level with Manchester United?

The criticism may have been fair, on the Swansea performance and also form in recent months – but, given time, Angel Di Maria will be a big player for the club.

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know how highly Di Maria is rated. He has the ability to get up and down the pitch with the ball at his feet, effortlessly gliding past helpless defenders and is capable of scoring ridiculous goals, like the chipped goal against Leicester City. However, since he picked up an injury just before Christmas and the shocking news that his house was targeted by burglars, the Argentine seems to be on the periphery of things. He notched up 17 assists for Real Madrid last season and was a big player in their quest for a tenth, “La Decima”, European Cup crown – so why is he not reaching the same heights this season?

Louis van Gaal has continued to play Di Maria through the centre in a 4-4-2 diamond, rather than out wide – where it is arguable that he can have more of an impact cutting in. Playing with Ronaldo and Benzema at Madrid ensured an extremely mobile frontline, which of course grants him space to be able to dribble through. At United, there is limited width these days and too often against Swansea City, Di Maria was crowded out or ran into an over congested area. Some of his best performances have been from wide areas and against Burnley, he won a penalty from driving in from the wing and bamboozling the defender. He is capable of taking on the best teams in the world, but surely he would have more of an impact running at defenders higher up the pitch, either from the left or right flank.

Looking at his passing range in the 2014 European Cup final, it is clear to see where he was asked to operate:


For a player of his dribbling ability, you want him taking on defenders – but you also need movement up front to vacate space, something he isn’t getting at present. If you take a look at his passing range against Barcelona in a 2-2 draw some seasons ago, again he is deployed in a wide position, this time on the right:


Lastly, if you take a look at his passing range against Swansea City yesterday, you’ll see a different picture – with the Argentine playing deeper and more centrally:


Angel Di Maria needs to be played in a position where he can hurt the opposition but he also needs movement around him to be able to gallop into the space. For £60million odd, he really hasn’t delivered or met the eagerly anticipated expectations of United fans thus far – but he is still only in his first season and adapting to a non Latin country. He needs time to fit into this Manchester United team that is currently being moulded by van Gaal. Robbie Savage was right in his assessment of Di Maria, but that isn’t to say that he won’t deliver for United in the future. Yes, there is a vast amount of money involved, and he should be doing more than he is, but I feel United need to play with more width to get the best out of him.

Some players do feel the heat of a transfer, whereas others revel in it. Roy Keane didn’t look back despite being the most expensive player in British history following his move from Nottingham Forest in the summer of 1993. Andy Cole struggled in his early days at United following his £7million move from Newcastle United, and Rio Ferdinand was still developing when he signed from Leeds back in 2002 – but both went onto repay their transfers fees with a bucketload of trophies. Then you get the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, who wasn’t phased at all after his transfer from PSV. The pressure can impact players and maybe it is a combination of a number of thing impacting his form. He will come good at United.

Savage is obviously a keen admirer of Di Maria, as per his tweet back in August, but it was a fair assessment of the player so far in his United career.

So what are your thoughts on the criticism of Di Maria? Fair or blown out of proportion?

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