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Aug 28, 2014

Is Di Maria enough for Man Utd?

Angel Di Maria has a host of tools at his disposal.
Angel Di Maria has a host of tools at his disposal.

An angel has arrived in Manchester. Many fans think Angel Di Maria will be United's saviour this season. Others worry that while his arrival provides a huge step towards recovery, bigger problems remain, most importantly in defence.

With the Financial Fair Play authorities looming over United's bookkeepers, there may not be much left in the bank for further business this summer (particularly given that they have recouped less than 10 million pounds from transfers in the last two years but have spent nearly 200 million pounds). Thus, one has to wonder, is Di Maria going to be worth such significant outlay for Manchester United and Louis van Gaal?

The obvious answer is yes. United need everything and anything they can get at the moment and the chance to sign a genuinely world-class player who is happy to go to Old Trafford in spite of a lack of Champions League football simply had to be snapped up. There was a real fear that the Red Devils simply wouldn't be able to attract that kind of calibre of player after last season's catastrophe and if they passed up this opportunity then another may not present itself for a long time.

Di Maria adds unquestionable attacking quality to this United squad. He is a workhorse, and one that has fantastic end product, too. He registered 17 assists last season -- at least four more than any other player across the top five European leagues and seven more than any United player managed (Rooney 10.)

Meanwhile, although the new season is still at this very early stage, no Manchester United player has yet to register an assist in three competitive games against Swansea, Sunderland and MK Dons. Both of their goals thus far have been opportunistic strikes rather than pieces of creative beauty, the likes of which Di Maria is capable of providing.

He will add clever movement and dynamism to a United midfield that has so far been lacking. Often thought of as a winger -- perhaps as a result of his pacey, direct running, incredible turning circle and dribbling ability (he averaged 5.0 dribbles per game at the 2014 World Cup) -- the Argentine is in fact more suited to the central roles in which he thrived at Benfica earlier in his career and Real Madrid last season. It would thus make sense for Van Gaal to abandon the 3-4-1-2 formation with which he has persisted so far at Old Trafford in favour of a 4-1-2-1-2 midfield diamond with Di Maria and Ander Herrera flanking a defensive midfielder and likely Juan Mata behind the forwards.

Deploying him out wide in a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-1-2 would sacrifice some of his input (both attacking and defensive in either position), so as long as the United manager uses him in the right way, initially at least he looks like he is worth the 59.7 million pounds they forked out.

Compared to other expensive transfers of recent times, the Di Maria deal indeed seems worthwhile. Mesut Ozil had come to the Premier League for the hefty price of 42.5 million pounds a year earlier, having registered 13 assists the previous season, ranking him fourth in Europe. The transfer paid immediate dividends even though Arsenal arguably did not need another creative midfielder, so United's greater needs explain the increased fee.

However, with Luis Suarez, who hit 31 goals and 12 assists in 33 Premier League appearances last season, costing around 75 million pounds, Di Maria begins to look more expensive. The Barcelona vice-president Jordi Mestre has claimed that Suarez's desire to leave Liverpool saved the Spanish club 10 million pounds, but with Di Maria that certainly wasn't the case. His preference to stay in Madrid could have driven the price up further.

Gareth Bale cost a world record 86 million pounds when he moved from Tottenham to Real Madrid, but he had just hit 21 goals -- most of which were brilliant individual efforts from range -- for Tottenham, and was still only 24 years of age. Di Maria has plenty of time ahead of him, too, but one can't help but worry that United's sheer desperate need for vast improvement, inspiration and creative quality has meant they have paid over the odds.

The worry is that, as mentioned before, there may well be little left for them to spend and there are most certainly still improvements to be made. Lowly MK Dons may have faced a weakened United team, but the fact they could waltz past the likes of Jonny Evans with such regular ease remains a worry. The first-team lacked resistance against both Swansea and Sunderland, too, while they found it difficult to move the ball forward from deep without looking long. There are other problems in Louis van Gaal's squad, and one has to wonder whether Di Maria alone will be a sufficient solution between now and the end of the transfer window.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

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