Scotland V England Saturday 24th February. 4:45PM. BBC One Scotland v England renew their rivalry…
Summer 2014 was another record-breaking transfer window for Premier League spending with a total spend exceeding £800million. The biggest deal of the lot came from the mind-blowing £59.7 million arrival of Angel di Maria to Old Trafford.
The entire world was stunned to learn that Real Madrid president Florentino Perez no longer required the Argentina star in Spain and the race for his signature was fierce. Regardless of last season’s failings, Manchester United remain the only club that isn’t a step down from the Blancos and Louis van Gaal pulled no punches in acquiring the British record signing.
The Real Deal
It had taken the best part of four years for Di Maria to cement his place as one of the Bernabeu club’s key players but 2013/14 saw him climb to the very top as his eye for a pass drew plaudits from all directions. The 26-year-old claimed more assists than any other La Liga star last term – perhaps more significantly, though, his unselfish nature and willingness to work for the team allowed the likes of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo to shine as the club finally ended a 12-year wait to complete la Decima.
In fact, it was Di Maria’s tremendous work ethic which created the all-important breakthrough in extra-time of the Champions League final as his forceful run and shot allowed Bale to head in the winner.
Manchester United fans have become accustomed to seeing the world’s greatest players and the addition of Di Maria sent a huge statement to anybody suggesting that the Red Devils are going to fade into obscurity.
The Catalyst For A New-Look United
Di Maria had made a promising but unspectacular debut at Burnley prior to the international break but Manchester United fans had to wait over two weeks to see their man step out onto the Old Trafford pitch. However, a deadline day capture of Radamel Falcao had stolen the headlines in the build up for Sunday’s showdown against QPR.
An absolutely stunning display from the Argentine star ensured that the headlines would once again revolve around him. If Old Trafford really is the Theatre of Dreams, then this was certainly a home debut fitting of the venue.
During the international break, Red Devils fans would have witnessed their new record signing tear the world champions apart as he claimed one goal and three assists as Argentina beat Germany 4-2 in Dussedorf. That would have only further heightened the weight of expectation on Sunday but the midfielder didn’t show any signs of being fazed by that.
United’s Angel Has Arrived
Di Maria was brilliant throughout his 80-minute introduction to the Old Trafford crowd and is already becoming the latest Stretford End hero. United fans want to be entertained and the technically assured Argentine is definitely the one to make that happen.
Reds legend Gary Neville eulogised: “Every time he gets on the ball it comes alive. The game just looks quicker when he’s on it”. United have been calling out for someone to dictate the play, especially since Paul Scholes retired for a second time, and Di Maria appears to be the answer to those prayers. He was at the heart of everything good about the home side’s performance, inspiring a fantastic team performance which saw them tear QPR apart with ease.
Not only did Di Maria look assured throughout, he additionally played a huge part in the biggest part of football – scoring goals. Having opened his Manchester United account with the game’s opening goal, via a superbly swung free-kick that managed to elude everyone including Robert Green, he was later involved in two more goals to leave a jubilant Old Trafford salivating at the thought of what he could achieve over the coming years.
Hard Work Pays Off
However, for all that brilliance on the ball, it is the his tireless grafting off it which sets him aside from other top players. Di Maria’s high pressing ensures that his side keep a high tempo and, with the likes of Falcao, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in attack, that is bound to create goals. Fast attacking play has always been the crux of United’s success and it appears that the club are eager for that philosophy to return following the disaster of an ill-fated David Moyes era in which the team often looked flat and bereft of ideas.
Van Gaal also has to take credit for ditching the flawed 3-5-2 in favour of the 4-4-2 diamond and that formation certainly seemed to get the best out of both Di Maria and Juan Mata. With that creative duo providing the ammunition for one of world football’s most frightening forward lines, a return to more positive times may be on the horizon for United.
Forget that it was only a lacklustre QPR, the Red Devils were fantastic on Sunday and that performance has seen a flicker of light turn into a much brighter beacon of positivity around Sir Matt Busby Way.
It has been a truly testing 15 months after Sir Alex’s retirement but the Red Devils are more than capable of making a resurgence. Angel di Maria could be the key to that resurrection.