Angel Di Maria’s Absence Has Saved Man Utd

It somehow already feels like it’s been an eternity since Angel di Maria joined PSG on a £44.3 million deal from Manchester United. The enigmatic but undeniably talented midfielder was a prized acquisition for the Paris side, and ultimately represented their biggest move of the summer heading into league play.

The move has paid off relatively well thus far for PSG, which sits five points clear at the top of the Ligue 1 standings already after just nine games played. It’s of course no surprise for PSG to be leading in the domestic league, but the club’s form has been consistently sound. They’re off to a convincing start in Champions League play as well with wins over Malmo and Shakhtar in the opening weeks of the playoffs. Carlo Ancelotti, who just a couple years ago won the UCL with Real Madrid and with di Maria in the fold, said earlier this month that his former player would take PSG to the next level, and he may have been right. Di Maria has managed two goals and three assists in just six appearances so far, and more importantly has demonstrated a commitment to the team play for which he’s best known.

Considering all of that, it would be easy for football supporters to begin wondering if Man Utd. may have been impatient with di Maria, and perhaps should have given more time to a player with such clear talents. Indeed, some have made the argument that Man Utd. made a mistake selling di Maria to PSG, specifically given the fact that even in the midst of a disappointing run in Manchester, the midfielder operated quite effectively as a set-up man. In fact, di Maria created more chances than any other Man Utd. player in 2014/15.

But that’s just not the whole story, largely thanks to the absurd size of the contract di Maria signed when he joined Man Utd. in the first place. Di Maria was paid like a franchise altering superstar, as opposed to an effective facilitator with unreliable attacking potential. Considering on-field production in the context of money made, di Maria was actually the worst value for money buy in the Premier League last season (yes, even worse than Mario Balotelli). Di Maria was paid £5.97 million per assist and a ridiculous £19.9 million per goal scored. Those numbers just wouldn’t work for any club.

Man Utd. never has an issue finding money to spend, but by selling di Maria the club was better able to justify a summer spending spree that effectively restructured the midfield and attacking potential under Louis van Gaal. Van Gaal discussed moving to a 4-3-3 line before the season, seeking to facilitate the same fluid offense he’s had so much success with on his Dutch national teams. Whether through shifting the line or the addition of a few new players, the change is paying off thus far.

Perhaps most noteworthy for Man Utd. is that Juan Mata has stepped brilliantly into a more active role in the midfield in di Maria’s absence, having notched three assists and three goals through his eight starts to date. Newcomers Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger (the latter of whom is still recovering from injury) are coming along as well, and ultimately Man Utd. should have a decisively more reliable midfield. Meanwhile, the line up front has seen a very solid start from Anthony Martial, who was purchased for £36 million from Monaco. And that’s happened while fellow newcomer Memphis Depay and face of the franchise Wayne Rooney have yet to find their stride.

What Man Utd. seems to be developing, more than anything, is consistency. In a 2015/16 campaign that doesn’t appear to include a dominant side the likes of Man City or Chelsea from the past couple of seasons, consistency may be just what the team needs. Di Maria is a fine player and appears on his way to success in Paris, but by letting him go and using summer funds to build depth and reliability, Man Utd. is better positioned to compete in the EPL.

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