Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Di Maria poses tactical questions for Van Gaal

Angel Di Maria has become Manchester United's and Britain's most expensive player when signing for the Reds for just under 60M.

Di Maria is undoubtedly a fine player of huge pedigree and talent. Some may suggest that 60M does not offer value but in the context of Suarez and Bale it's arguable that he does. You could also argue he makes Fabregas at 30M look rather cheap.

Of course the value of a player cannot be taken in such splendid isolation such are the associated commercial benefits and of course the relative position of any given club.

Given United's absence from the Champions League and their poor start to the season, could they have afforded NOT to buy him?

Real Madrid may feel they have traded up with the acquisition earlier this Summer of James Rodriguez and the bargain acquisition of Toni Kroos but Di Maria's stats at Real show they are losing a player of sublime quality and influence.

For the second year in a row, Real are selling their number one assist provider. In that respect their loss is most certainly United's gain, but the big question is how does he fit into the current United team?

Van Gaal has decreed that United will play 3-4-3 for the foreseeable with the acquisition of Di Maria's international team mate Marcos Rojo presumably seen as aiding that purpose.

The 3-4-3 however has been tweaked into a 3-4-1-2 to accommodate a front three of Mata, Rooney and RVP who all crave to play centrally. Fitting Di Maria into that equation prompts several questions.

It is not entirely simple to bracket Di Maria as a player. He nominally looks best equipped as a wide attacking player with his rangy, mazy dribbling skills.

Steve McMananaman was a similar (at least aesthetically) type of player for Madrid who adapted to a more central role. Neither player however would thrive in the deeper lying central midfield role which a 3-4-3 dictates.

That leaves Van Gaal with two further options for Di Maria. The first would be as a wing back which would appear folly on two levels.

Di Maria does not look equipped for the defensive burden of that position and in turn that role would take away from the wonderful attacking intent that he possesses. He is an attacking provider and should be used as such.

The position most likely under scrutiny then must become that of Juan Mata if the three at the back system is to be persisted with (and it would prove quite a climbdown for Van Gaal to abandon it so quickly).

Di Maria offers a more energetic type of scheming to Mata with his far greater athleticism. An advanced central position may work for Di Maria and offer more energy in attack for United.

The other option is to play a 3-4-3 with Di Maria in a wide role. This presumably means that one of Rooney, Van Persie and Mata have to be played out of position with one other left disappointed on the bench.

Rooney has looked keen to fit in with Van Gaal's plans and he would undoubtedly provide honest endeavour in a wider role but it does not suit his talent best.

It also entirely marginalises Juan Mata who it must be remembered was bought for North of 40M only eight months ago.

Having just despatched a cheque for 60M, Van Gaal will of course be expected to play Di Maria from the outset and with only league football until the FA Cup arrives in January there will be little desire or need for rotation.

Di Maria would be an excellent addition to any squad such is his quality but Van Gaal's statement of playing three at the back means fitting him into the side effectively is tricky.

A 4-2-3-1 would accommodate both Mata and Di Maria but again would marginalise either RVP or Rooney. With Rooney being made captain and the need for RVP's goals, Juan Mata is increasingly looking like the odd man out.

RVP's fitness has been suspect for the majority of his career and with his advancing years Van Gaal may not see him as a long term bet. The prospect of Di Maria and Mata buzzing around behind an advanced Rooney possibly makes sense with a 3-4- formation behind them.

Van Gaal is of course renowned for his tactical nous and adaptability. How Di Maria fits in will be fascinating especially given the context of the players around him in the attacking positions and especially if everyone is fit - No Nonsense.