The circulation of rumours linking Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria with a move to Manchester United have heated up significantly over the past twenty-four hours. There have been subdued murmurings all summer long that the twenty-six year old is a potential target for Louis van Gaal, but the announcement from Carlo Ancelotti himself that Di Maria wants out has led to increased levels of hope amongst United fans. Whether this sudden optimism is misplaced remains to be seen – if transfer dealings of late are anything to go by, holding your breath isn’t advised – but it does raise the question as to where the Argentine would fit into the current side. He’s talented enough – that much isn’t up for debate – but as for where he slots in and who misses out, it’s interesting to take a look.
By trade, Di Maria is a winger, attacking midfielder, creator. Call it what you will, he’s going to do his best work from an advanced position on the pitch, generally from the left-hand side. He has played in a number of other roles for club and country, as is the case with most attacking players. He has been deployed centrally, on the right and sitting slightly deeper, with mixed results. This shows that he doesn’t mind being shifted around a bit but if a club are prepared to spend the reported amount that it will cost to bring him in, you want to be unleashing him to his full capabilities on the league’s (terrified) full backs.
Much has been has made of van Gaal’s determination to engineer a team which can be both functional and exciting, using his tried and tested 3-5-2 formation. However, it is a formation which doesn’t truly lend itself to a defence-terrorising winger such as Di Maria. Is he hard-working enough to fill the wing back position? Almost definitely, but the defensive responsibilities associated with this role are bound to take away from his overall performances. Could he sit in the “number 10” role behind the strikers? Certainly, but where does that leave Juan Mata or Adnan Januzaj? What about central midfield? If United were going to spend big money on a player for this position, Vidal was surely the man.
Van Gaal is unlikely to change his tactical approach to accommodate one player and perhaps rightly so. This does, however, leave the quandary of how seamlessly Di Maria would adjust to life as part of the Manchester United squad, despite the bundles of talent which he evidently possesses.
Juan Mata is an interesting case study; at the time that his move from London to Manchester was agreed, United were playing a rigid 4-4-2, into which Mata didn’t naturally fit. £37.1m is a lot of money to pay for a player who doesn’t immediately address a glaring issue in your line-up. Whilst it’s probably fair to say that Mata has only shown the wizard-like playmaking of which he is capable in glimpses during his time in a red shirt, I’m sure that you would also struggle to find a United fan who isn’t delighted that he plays for their club.
The same applies to Di Maria; it may not be obvious where he fits into this team but he is undeniably better than many (all?) of the existing options. With the current situation at the club, the fans need a lift and the squad seemingly need the encouragement of world class players joining the ranks. Angel Di Maria fits the bill, so now is surely a time for action. Pay what it takes to make him a Manchester United player – we’ll cross the bridge of tactical technicalities when we come to it.