With Angel Di Maria set to seal a move to Old Trafford in the next 48 hours for a British Record £59.7 million fee, you are forced to consider how he is going to fit into this current Manchester United team.
It is also worth considering the impact of the move for other players at the club, and to the shape of the team moving forward.
Make no mistake, Angel Di Maria will start for Manchester United. The move makes him the 4th most expensive player in football history. He will not be there to be rotated in and out of the team as this was his main reasoning for leaving Madrid.
Di Maria wanted assurances over his game time, and Carlo Ancelotti could not promise the winger the role that he merits given Madrid’s wealth of talent in attacking areas. This lead to him being played out of position in central areas last term.
Angel Di Maria is best employed as an attacking winger, and prefers to play out on the right. He has the ability to go past a player at speed and create chances.
After the Argentine’s performance in the Super Copa first leg last Tuesday, Aletico manager Diego Simeone said, “The game changed with Di Maria. It’s logical – he’s the best player they have.”
He most certainly is not a wingback, and Manchester United Louis van Gaal shouldn’t look to fit square pegs into round holes – see Ashley Young. It is evident that the system will have to change.
With Louis van Gaal came the introduction of the 3-5-2 formation at Manchester United. It worked well for them in preseason where they were unbeaten, but in the league it has been a different story.
Injuries may be largely responsible for the ineffectiveness of the system in the league, with van Gaal utilising a thread bare back 5 of Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Blackett and Young.
In my opinion, our current defensive options, even when fully fit, aren’t strong enough to play this system, and centrally, Manchester United’s defenders are very injury prone.
Di Maria’s strengths will not be best utilised in the current set-up so expect change to accommodate him.
Traditionally, Manchester United have always had pace and width, but this season they have looked sluggish and narrow. I would expect the system to revert back to something a bit more traditional to get the best out of the resources that will be available.
I would suggest a 4-2-3-1 as our best option, and I will discuss the starting XI once I’ve examined the impact to other players.
Impact on Juan Mata
When played in central areas, Juan Mata has been a revelation for Manchester United. In the number 10 role he has excelled. Mata has scored seven, assisted two and created 21 chances in just ten games. Compare this with his contribution from wide areas and it is plain to see where he should be played.
To get the best out of Juan Mata, he needs to play in the hole. The 4-2-3-1 formation would also allow Mata to remain in his preferred role, while still utilising Di Maria in the best possible way.
Impact on Ashley Young
Ashley Young. Where to start? For me Ashley Young has to go. He has stolen a wage at Manchester United for long enough now.
Louis van Gaal tried to reinvent him as a wingback. It hasn’t worked. He has been at fault for two of the three goals Manchester United have conceded already this season. But it is not just defensively he’s disappointed.
Young is possibly the most predicatble winger in the league. I lost track of times on Saturday as to how many times he would pop up in a decent attacking area, only to cut inside and cross straight at Vito Mannone’s chest. Add to that a disgraceful attempt at simulation which was embarrassing, which is very much a part of his game, he simply has to go.
Impact on Shinji Kagawa
Shinji Kagawa is an enigma. Prior to his move to Old Trafford, he was a force of nature for Borrusia Dortmund. His integration into the Manchester United team has not been simple. Now in his third season at the club, under his third manager – fourth if you count Ryan Giggs’ stint as caretaker.
The constant managerial changes means he hasn’t really had a chance to showcase his talents in any sort of run in the team, and has been forced to play in wide areas. His game time last season was hampered by the emergence of Adnan Januzaj.
Van Gaal has been quoted earlier in the summer as saying he has inherited a squad with too many number 10s and this implies that Kagawa’s opportunities could be limited to a wide berth.
He played in all the preseason games, and United were unbeaten but he hasn’t featured in the league. He is rumoured to be on his way out, but if United revert back to a system with wingers, he may get one final chance to impress this season.
Impact on Adnan Januzaj
Januzaj has taken up the mantle of the number 11 shirt at Old Trafford this summer. Not only does this show the heights that he is expected to reach, but that he is also a key part of Louis van Gaal’s plans.
However, he has made both appearances this season from the bench, but his introduction has clearly lifted both the team and the crowd on both occasions.
The arrival of a world class winger means that United will need to field someone on the opposite flank and this means you can expect to see more of the little Belgian.
Impact on Wayne Rooney
The new Manchester United captain has started both of his games in a more advanced role than last season. No longer is he playing as a number 10, but as an out and out striker. The return of Robin van Persie is welcomed, but if United are to revert to a 4-2-3-1, what does this mean for Rooney?
When Rooney first signed for Manchester United, I touted him as the longterm successor to Paul Scholes, given his range of passing, vision and eye for a goal from distance. Rooney thus far has been unwilling to move deeper.
If you watch Rooney, if United are playing badly, or he feels that he isn’t getting on the ball enough he naturally drops deeper to try to gain more influence on a game.
I would suggest that with the added responsibility of the armband, he should play in a central midfield role so that he can have a better view of the performance of the team, rather than having to look back from an attacking position as the majority of play will be behind him.
This will also allow him more time on the ball and more of an opportunity to dictate tempo and get moves going. Whether Wayne would be happy with this is another matter.
My Starting Eleven
Given my suggestions as to the way United should be set up, and the impact that the signing of Di Maria will have on other players, here is how I feel out best XI should look: