I’ve seen a fair few posts by pundits on social media and other sports websites about Angel Di Maria this season. The majority of those claim or point towards the opinion that he has been a flop for Manchester United this year.
One of the most recent was posted on BBC Sport by Robbie Savage almost a month ago ahead of the United v Arsenal game (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/31738779). He even compares him to the higher profile Premiership flops such as Veron or Shevchenko.
I think it’s still too soon to judge him though, but he did come at a hefty £59.7 million which broke the British transfer record. This is almost single handedly the reason that people expect to see him do more, but what more CAN he do? This season he has featured 22 times for Manchester United, a club rebuilding, but it’s been a stop/start season for him. It seems like van Gaal only figured out what system to play last month as it is, as he spent the opening few weeks playing with 3-5-2, putting Di Maria in behind the strikers where he is arguably nowhere near as effective.
It’s very rare that players come to the Premier League and have an exceptional season from start to finish in their very first year. Even Diego Costa, who got off to a flyer of a season, has come off the boil slightly in recent weeks and picked up a few injuries. The only one this year I can think of who has been consistently good has been Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal, who cost almost half the price Di Maria did (£35 million).
It’s probably difficult enough moving to a country with a different style of football as it is without external influences making things harder and forcing him to move house a second time within a few months of arriving.
Add in a hamstring injury and a red card this season, and it’s been hard for him to get a run of games this side of Christmas. Another factor is the recent re-emergence of Ashley Young, who has been almost undroppable this past few months.
Despite all of this, Di Maria came off the bench to get his 10th assist of the season yesterday against Aston Villa. This puts him 5 shy of David Beckham’s record of 15 assists in the 1999-00 season. At the time of writing he is currently second in terms of assists this season behind Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea, who has 16. Combine his 3 goals with the 10 assists and he’s been involved in 13 of United’s 55 goals this season so far (23.63% of all their goals if my maths is correct!).
The bar of expectations is only set so high for him I think because of how well he played last season and at the World Cup. Plus, he’s a Manchester United player and 90% of the country love to hate anyone involved with the club. People know what he CAN do, and so far we’ve only seen glimpses, despite fairly impressive statistics. He’s one of those rare players who can do anything with a ball. Players like him in van Gaal’s new system add some much needed excitement back to Old Trafford after last year’s disaster of a season.
Given stability on and off the field and consistent playing time in the right position, he could (and should) be a huge player for United and pivotal in future title challenges that they will surely mount in the coming seasons.