Angel di Maria: The Man United cast-off who might be PSG’s difference in Europe
It has been a month now since Angel di Maria’s last goal, and for Paris Saint-Germain, it is two-and-half weeks since the last Ligue 1 victory.
So, yes, the French league champions have come to Chelsea at their lowest ebb this season in terms of their domestic form, their star summer recruit impatient to return to making his habitual impact.
The damage sustained by following up defeat against Lyon with a goalless draw at home to Montpellier last Saturday is barely significant. PSG still hold an advantage of 23 points over second-placed Monaco in the table.
Of almost greater interest to coach Laurent Blanc as questions about why Ligue 1 points are being dropped by a club who tower over the rest of their French rivals is how Di Maria looks, having coming back from a minor injury.
The answer, against Montpellier, was that he displayed enough of his best that Blanc will look tonight to the slimline Argentine to again show that principal rationale for his acquisition, for well over €50 million (Dh201m), is valid.
“He’s the difference between the idea PSG cannot win the Uefa Champions League, and ‘Yes, PSG can win the Champions League’,” said Blanc when a player the French club had pursued through several transfer windows at last reached the Parc de Princes, via a deflating year at Manchester United, who in 2014 had paid Real Madrid over €70m for him.
Di Maria may well have some points to prove on his first competitive match in England since he trotted off the field, injured, from the last fixture of United’s 2014/15 campaign against Hull City.
He had not started a match for United for more than three months before that. Indeed, today is the first anniversary of the moment the Di Maria experience in English football reached its crossroads and was signposted towards an unhappy exit.
United were at home to Arsenal in an FA Cup tie on March 9, 2015, and 2-1 down. Di Maria was booked for diving and so incensed was he by the decision he grabbed onto the shirt of the referee Michael Oliver. A second caution inevitably followed.
There would be no defence of the player offered by his manager Louis van Gaal, whose exasperation with the Argentine had been growing.
Where did it all go wrong for the Premier League edition Di Maria, who had established a new record high for a single transfer paid by a British club when United took him from Madrid?
They had a 24-carat asset, plucked fresh from the summit of the sport. That May, Di Maria had been named man of the match in Madrid’s Champions League final win over Atletico Madrid.
That July he had helped steer Argentina into the World Cup final where his absence, injured from the semi-finals, may very well have played a part in their falling short in extra time against Germany.
That long season left him a little fatigued, and muscle injuries interrupted his efforts to adapt to the English game.
It was a “sad time”, he told French media last month. His home near Manchester was burgled. He followed up goals early in the season with inhibited displays from the autumn onwards. His passes, once accurate and imaginative, turned wayward.
At Madrid, where there has long been culture of high turnover for footballers of his type – creative attacking midfielders – he had finished his last season at the Bernabeu as a free-scoring team’s most productive provider of assists.
In Ligue 1, he has set the pace as the most generous colleague in a division dominated by PSG. He has 14 assists across competitions from 33 games and 12 goals to go with that.
A Di Maria through-ball, nicely measured and weighted, executed with that fine left foot, set up Edinson Cavani to score the winner in the 2-1, first-leg win against Chelsea in Paris last month. A trademark Di Maria pass, Madridistas would testify.
Parisians would agree.
Manchester never saw enough of them.
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Published: March 8, 2016 04:00 AM