When Angel Di Maria signed for a British record £59.7 million, the expectations for the Argentinian were very high, and initially he lived up to the high expectations. His goal against Queens Park Rangers in his first home game, and the overall performance was spectacular. The pace, willingness to be on the ball, and the confidence in him, reminded me of a classic Manchester United number seven. As he was played centrally, it allowed him time and space on the ball, something that he does not have when he is played as a winger.
In his central role he scored all three of his goals in the Premier League, and when employed as a winger scored none, of course, he did produce some assists as a winger, but he always looked limited out wide. The two games that should prove that are the defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup and the Everton match, which resulted in a 3-0 defeat at Goodison Park.
The Arsenal game saw United line up in a 4-3-3 formation with Di Maria playing in front of Antonio Valencia at the right-back position, and although he looked bright going forward, he looked limited. The former Real Madrid man also had trouble tracking back on defence and left Antonio Valencia isolated. His frustrations came out in that incredulous red card. The winger looked angered and very average. He could not get a decent cross in from corners or set pieces, and the talk of Di Maria being a flop grew steam.
The Everton game is by far Di Maria’s best game for United because he was played as an attacking midfielder of sorts. He was able to have the space that he wanted in the center of midfield and his work rate going forward was paid off by earning a crucial goal and assist. His passing accuracy was an amazing 87% and he created five chances. Di Maria’s connection with Mata and Rooney was evident and he was clearly the perfect player for United’s midfield.
When Di Maria was played as a winger he, on average, mustered a mere 1.3 chances a game, and only had two assists when playing in his wide role; however, the Argentine created 3.1 chances a game when played as the central midfielder and accumulated eight assists overall. Di Maria also created the most chances in the United team this year and of course most of them coming from his central position as expected.
The stats do not lie about where Angel Di Maria should be played: he is an attacking midfielder and if put out wider he would be very restricted. With Di Maria as an attacking midfielder next season, depending on signings, I would love to see him be played directly behind Wayne Rooney in an attacking 4-3-3 with Young and Mata on the wings. While signings are going to be made, Angel Di Maria clearly should not be played as a winger and with Wayne Rooney coming back to his striker role, Di Maria would be the perfect player to give United so many opportunities.
This article was researched and written by Dylan Jones. You can follow him on Twitter.