How Real Madrid Would Replace Manchester United Transfer Target Angel Di Maria

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 09:  Angel Di Maria of Real Madrid CF reacts during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Levante UD at Santiago Bernabeu stadium on March 9, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

New Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has dropped the most obvious hint yet that Real Madrid's Angel Di Maria is in his sights.

When asked about vice-chairman Ed Woodward's confidence that United would be prepared to break the world transfer record, Van Gaal, speaking to the Mirror, said: 

It is a strategy of Manchester United to do that. At this moment, we have five No.9s and four No.10s – and we don't have wingers to give us attacking width.

Or, I should say, we don't have wingers of the highest level, like Ronaldo or Di Maria or somebody like that.

Van Gaal's comments came after a report from the Metro, indicating United had lodged a £55 million bid for Di Maria and were awaiting a response from Real Madrid. 

While transfer speculation engulfing the game's biggest names can sometimes be dismissed, the protracted length of the saga surrounding the Argentinian would suggest a move to Old Trafford is becoming increasingly likely. 

The question for Real Madrid, therefore, is: How will Florentino Perez and Carlo Ancelotti cover Di Maria's absence, should he depart the Bernabeu this summer?

Squad Options

MADRID, SPAIN - JULY 22:  James Rodriguez waves to fans during his unveiling as a new Real Madrid player at the Santaigo Bernabeu stadium on July 22, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. Real agreed to buy Rodriguez from AS Monaco for the next six seasons for an undisc
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

There is, of course, no like-for-like replacement for Di Maria currently residing in Los Blancos' decorated squad. Indeed, with near-unrivalled running power and a relentless work rate, the 26-year-old winger-cum-midfielder is an extremely unique package. 

But there are options for Ancelotti, should he opt to use those already in his possession to replace Di Maria.

If the Italian were to maintain the 4-3-3 shape that proved so effective last season, both James Rodriguez and Isco could be used as the most attacking component of a midfield trio also containing a combination from Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso and Toni Kroos. 

Both the Colombian and the Spaniard are, by trade, out-and-out No. 10s more naturally suited to a 4-2-3-1 system. Yet, Isco proved last season, particularly when used as a decisive substitute in the Champions League final in May, that he's capable of adapting to an adjusted role in Real Madrid's preferred formation. 

Needing to integrate the £63 million Rodriguez—who, at just 23, is still a malleable project for Real—the World Cup sensation could be deployed in Di Maria's role with a view to developing the former Monaco star into a more versatile asset. 

Such a situation would increase the defensive burden on Modric and Alonso, given Rodriguez's natural inclination to attack and questionable defensive contribution.

However, if Ancelotti wishes to maintain the system that proved so lethal in 2013-14 without making further ventures into the transfer market, Rodriguez (with Isco as a secondary option) would be the obvious candidate to fill Di Maria's position in the 4-3-3. 

Formation Change

Lalo R. Villar/Associated Press

Should Ancelotti harbour concerns over the defensive strength of the team's midfield in Rodriguez's presence, Los Blancos' boss could revert to the 4-2-3-1 that was discarded in the early months of Gareth Bale's arrival last term.

Doing so would place the Colombian in his preferred No. 10 position, also ensuring adequate cover was available with a double pivot in the form of Modric and Alonso sitting behind the club's latest Galactico.

While reverting to the less destructive system could hamper the team's attacking output somewhat, a 4-2-3-1 would reduce the physical burden on Real's midfield (shifting it instead to the wings occupied by the explosive Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo), helping to counter the loss of Di Maria's extraordinary aerobic capacity in central areas. 

Of course, those craving another Real Madrid fireworks display in 2014-15 would likely be disappointed with a move away from Ancelotti's devastating 4-3-3.

But it must be remembered that it was Los Blancos' tally of 38 goals conceded last season (12 more than champions Atletico Madrid and five more than Barcelona) that cost the men from the Bernabeu the league title. 

Future Transfer Possibilities

TURIN, ITALY - MAY 05:  Paul Pogba of Juventus celebrates after beating Atalanta BC 1-0 to win the Serie A Championships at the end of the Serie A match between Juventus and Atalanta BC at Juventus Arena on May 5, 2014 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Let's be clear on two things: Paul Pogba (pictured above) is unlikely to leave Juventus this summer, and he also wouldn't represent a like-for-like replacement for Di Maria. 

Nonetheless, the French star would be a valuable addition to the European champions if he were to become available in future windows. 

As far back as March, Simon Mullock of the Mirror reported that Pogba wasn't interested in returning to Old Trafford and had his heart set on joining Real Madrid at some point.

Given that he recently expressed hopes that Arturo Vidal will stay with the Serie A champions, per Sky Sports, a move for the France international seems unlikely in the current window. 

But history suggests Real Madrid tend to get what they want. According to L'Equipe (as relayed by Marca), Los Blancos are interested in Pogba.

An opportunity to sign the midfielder could present itself in the coming 12 months—particularly if Juventus want to ensure they receive something for him, rather than risk the possibility of losing him on a free transfer in two summers' time. 

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 04: Toni Kroos of Germany tussles Paul Pogba during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Quarter Final match between France and Germany at Maracana on July 4, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Martin Rose/Getty Images

Robust, defensively committed and a box-to-box type also capable of performing a holding role, the 21-year-old would enhance the balance of any midfield trio in a 4-3-3 containing Rodriguez. 

With Alonso entering the twilight years of his career and both Modric and Kroos technically gifted but hardly athletic, Pogba's presence would add grit to Ancelotti's midfield, compensating the Colombian's propensity to attack at all costs. 

Of course, the Frenchman can't replicate Di Maria's gut-running, but his addition to the midfield would help to maximise Rodriguez's talents while also ensuring the system that gets the most out of Ronaldo, Bale and Karim Benzema would be retained. 


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