Di Maria takes aim at critics
Real Madrid winger Angel Di Maria appeared to hit back at recent criticism from his manager Jose Mourinho after returning to form with two goals in the club's 5-0 La Liga mauling of Valencia at the Mestalla on Sunday.
Madrid roared out of the blocks and were five ahead by half-time, with Gonzalo Higuain opening the scoring and Cristiano Ronaldo also bagging a brace, but it was Di Maria's much-improved display that drew most attention.
And the Argentina international said directly after the game that he felt his performance, which also included the assist for Higuain's goal, had answered some unnamed critics.
"I played a great game and things went very well for me," Di Maria told Canal Plus. "There has been a lot of talk around and I was able to shut a few mouths. (Mourinho) gives his opinion and each person takes it as he must take it. I speak for myself, and I know who I am referring to when I say things."
Some thought this was an allusion to reported criticism the former Benfica man had received from Mourinho after last weekend's drab 0-0 draw at Osasuna, when he was substituted after just 58 minutes.
Marca reported that the Madrid boss had accused Di Maria in the dressing room after that game of relaxing and not playing well since signing a lucrative six-year contract extension last summer. The player was then dropped for Tuesday's Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg against Valencia at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
However, Di Maria cleared up his comments later on Sunday evening, claiming his words had been directed not at his coach but at the journalists who had written the story.
"The papers publish things which are not correct," he said. "Because of that there are conflicts inside the club. Mourinho did not say what people claimed he said in Pamplona."
With Mourinho again keeping a low profile after the game, Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka suggested that his boss' 'mind-games' had been the motivation behind Di Maria's performance. Karanka said that the reason for such a marked improvement in form had been "psychological".
"(The change in) Di Maria cannot be physical, but a psychological 'click'," Karanka said. "I hope he is back to his old form. Everyone knows him. It is clear that just one week on from Pamplona, it is not something physical. He was not in his best form, but today he was the player we all know."
Di Maria was on more comfortable ground when praising the way he and his team-mates had blown Valencia away with their attacking pace, power and precision.
"It was a match that we made easy for ourselves," he said. "We did things well from the start. It was important to keep our winning streak going. There are some matches that are difficult and others that are easier. We went out to press forward, as we have been doing, and we got a lot of goals. It is an important win."
Madrid will be back at the Mestalla in just three days, when they bring a 2-0 advantage into their Copa second leg. Di Maria said he expected Valencia's players to be extra motivated by Sunday's mauling.
"The match on Wednesday is a different match and it will be difficult," he said. "It is a cup tie and they will set out to win from the start. Hopefully we can repeat what we did today."