Angel Di Maria’s form is a serious concern for the Dutchman as he navigates his fifth-placed side through the tightest top four race in years.
The $116m August arrival from Real Madrid – seemingly operating in some sort of parallel universe – started his career in England brilliantly before quickly fading away since the turn of the year.
Di Maria’s confidence reached a new low on Thursday, dragged off after 57 wasteful minutes against Newcastle. It came days after van Gaal unceremoniously hauled him off at half time against Sunderland and, alarmingly, on both occasions, United’s play improved with him sitting in the stands.
His numbers against Newcastle reflected that of a Sunday park battler, not the Barclays Premier League’s most expensive ever player.
He made 33 passes at a completion rate of just 64 per cent. On top of that, just a quarter of his crosses found their target while a dribbling success rate of 33 per cent is well off the standard he showed in a glittering season for Real Madrid in 2013-14.
What’s gone wrong and how does Louis van Gaal solve a problem like Angel Di Maria?
YET TO FIND HIS BEST POSITION
Like Wayne Rooney, Di Maria has been a victim of his own ability, played in a variety of positions by van Gaal since arriving at Old Trafford.
In the majority of games he’s featured on the left of a midfield three, and it’s there he’s shown his best, scoring three times and supplying four assists in his first six games.
He’s been given a run on both flanks, though had little effect as a right winger against Sunderland and Newcastle in recent times.
Di Maria has also played as an auxiliary striker, a position he experienced little joy in due to Radamel Falcao’s own personal struggles in front of him.
Without doubt, Di Maria’s best performances have come when he’s run with the ball from deep, but with question marks over United’s defence, playing Di Maria in the centre can leave the Red Devils exposed. With Michael Carrick returning from injury in the win over Newcastle, perhaps Di Maria could be deployed in front of the Englishman and Daley Blind, who both offer stability sitting in front of a back four.