Having dethroned Champions League holders Bayern Munich in emphatic style earlier this week, Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid are rightly receiving high praise from all sources.
An incredible 5-0 demolition of the Bundesliga giants has set up an all-Madrid Champions League final, and if the Blancos can beat their city rivals, then it will make them the first club in history to lift Europe’s biggest trophy on 10 separate occasions.
That would be a monumental achievement, particularly in Ancelotti’s maiden campaign as the Bernabeu boss, and it would see an end to Real’s 12-year drought of Europe’s biggest prize.
Madrid have been in scintillating form this season. The world-record acquisition of Gareth Bale has certainly added an extra dimension to the potent Real attack, which already boasted Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and the lethal Karim Benzema.
It was the former Tottenham man who lit up the Copa del Rey final with his phenomenal late winner, but the form of Real’s other scorer should be underestimated at your peril.
The summer signing of Bale must have put thoughts of doubt into the Argentinian’s mind, who under Jose Mourinho was deployed as an out and out winger. However, the Welshman’s addition has actually helped Angel di Maria to resurrect his Blancos career.
In a season where Ronaldo has continued to break records for fun, Bale has garnered heightened media attention, Benzema has enjoyed his most productive season and Luka Modric has grown into one of the world’s greatest midfielders, di Maria has quietly gone about his work. However, that should not be confused with thinking the 26-year-old has not had a huge impact on Real’s success.
Di Maria may be in a more reserved role, both in terms of formation and spotlight, but this has easily been the best season since his arrival from Benfica in 2010.
According to WhoScored.com, Di Maria is Madrid’s fourth-best performer this season, with an average match rating of 7.45. The Argentina international also boasts 11 goals in all competitions, in spite of the slightly restrained role.
Ancelotti is an avid fan of the robust midfield three, which allows the Bernabeu giants to utilise Bale, Benzema and Roaldo to optimum effect, and di Maria has certainly played a pivotal role.
Di Maria’s passing and crossing abilities helped him become established as one of the world’s best wingers, and those qualities have enabled the Blancos star to thrive in his new position. In terms of creativity, the Argentine midfielder has been up there with the best in world football.
As per Real Madrid’s official website, di Maria is La Liga’s top assist maker during the second half of the campaign. The Argentine midfielder has provided nine assists in just 14 appearances, three ahead of Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez.
In total, Di Maria boasts 19 assists (La Liga and Champions League) and has certainly proved his worth throughout this campaign.
However, it isn’t only di Maria’s attacking threat that has helped the Blancos this season.
While Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric are both superb central midfielders, it is arguably di Maria who has had the biggest impact during Real’s fantastic season. The pace that had previously served him well on the wing has been crucial in the central areas.
At the Allianz Arena on Tuesday, di Maria’s speed and energy proved a major disruption to the flow of Bayern’s play. Additionally, his natural attacking flair was a constant link between defence and attack as the Blancos battered the Germans with direct, quick, counter-attacking brilliance.
The match against Bayern wasn’t the only key encounter in which di Maria has shone this season. In addition to opening the Copa del Rey scoring, the midfielder was near faultless in the epic Liga showdown with Barcelona too. Madrid may have lost that thrilling El Clasico clash via a 4-3 scoreline, but two assists and a generally strong all-round performance ensured that the 26-year-old could hold his head high.
In a season where Real Madrid have also registered a club-record eight consecutive clean sheets, the midfield support cannot be overestimated to that superb defensive form. Ancelotti, in typical Italian fashion, loves to give maximum support to his back four. The use of the midfield three certainly helps to do that—in the absence of Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira for long periods, di Maria’s incredible form has been absolutely crucial.
This promises to be one of the most memorable years in Real Madrid’s illustrious history. While there are a number of players who will be ahead of di Maria in the hierarchy for media headlines, nobody could ever argue that the Argentinian has been at the heart of the Blancos achievement.
Real Madrid meet Atletico in the Champions League final in Lisbon on May 24.