Manchester United: Assessing Whether Angel Di Maria Is Worth His Transfer Fee

Jake NisseFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2014

Di Maria with Louis Van Gaal
Di Maria with Louis Van Gaalvia Manchester United Official Twitter (@ManUtd)

Becoming the fourth signing of the summer for Manchester United, Angel Di Maria signed a five-year deal for the English club on Tuesday.

While few would dare deny his talent, his transfer fee of £59.7 million—a British record—has raised some questions. 

Let's dig deeper into the Argentina international.


By the Numbers

Di Maria is an immensely talented player, and he was pivotal in Real Madrid's La Liga and Champions League efforts last season. Throughout 45 appearances in both competitions, he totaled seven goals and a staggering 22 assists, serving a talismanic role for Los Blancos.

To put that last number into context, it was seven more assists than Wayne Rooney managed to accrue and more than any other player in Europe's Top 5 leagues.

Di Maria blew United players away in many statistical categories last season
Di Maria blew United players away in many statistical categories last seasonvia WhoScored

Though he certainly benefited from playing for a star-studded team, few can claim to be a better playmaker than Di Maria. 

His accurate crosses—2.1 per gameand penetrating runs down the left flank were something United could've used in their side, as they often struggled to find pace and directness.

His defensive contribution was respectable as well, averaging 1.3 tackles per game in league play.

The Argentine had an otherworldly season, cementing world-class status and raising his transfer value exponentially.

United now have to figure out where to use him.


Where Does He Fit in?

The first problem with the transfer of Angel Di Maria for United is working out where they play him. With the team currently employing a 3-4-1-2, the only logical positions for him would be wing-back or central midfield, as Juan Mata, Rooney, or Robin van Persie are unlikely to be dropped.

Using Di Maria as a wing-back, frankly, would be a waste, as it'd be putting a leash on his offensive abilities and forcing him to play a role completely unknown to him.

In addition, playing him in a two-man central midfield would leave United vulnerable defensively and also limit his ability to get forward.

Last season, Di Maria was part of a three-man midfield and played fantastically in the left-center-midfield role. This success as a shuttler, however, came with Xabi Alonso providing defensive cover. United do not currently have a defensive-minded midfielder in their ranks, which most likely rules out this option for now—though this could change if they manage to sign William Carvalho (h/t the Daily Mail).

Given that United broke the English transfer record to sign Di Maria, manager Louis Van Gaal should really be tweaking his lineup to get the best out of his new man.

With United's current resources, Van Gaal could use Di Maria as a left-sided attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, though the chances of him dropping captain Rooney or compatriot Van Persie out of a forward position look slim.

A left-wing role in a 4-3-3 is also possible, though United are not deep enough to play three central midfielders.

The most likely formation switch that still incorporates Mata, Rooney, and Van Persie is a 4-4-2 diamond. Van Gaal could either opt for a wide formation with Di Maria as a traditional winger or a narrow one with his new boy manning the left side of central midfield.

Van Gaal will want to implement Di Maria without dropping his other stars
Van Gaal will want to implement Di Maria without dropping his other starsJon Super/Associated Press

Di Maria has the chance to be a great signing, but he needs to be played in a position to succeed.


Ultimately, Is He What United Need Right Now?

While Di Maria does address United's wing issues and gives them another top-notch attacker, he does not address United's lack of a commanding defensive midfielder or central defender.

Before this transfer was made, Mata, Rooney, and Van Persie led a potent attack that was United's strong suit and considered to be head and shoulders above the other areas of United's squad.

With the Argentine's arrival, that gap has only widened; United have an even more stellar core of attackers followed by an average bunch of midfielders and defenders.

If Di Maria was not bought and United bolstered their midfield and defense, an attacking core of Rooney, Van Persie, Mata, Adnan Januzaj, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez would probably be good enough to help them challenge for the title.

Instead, they've bolstered their attack, but they are left forced to play Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher in midfield and youngsters Tyler Blackett and Michael Keane in defense. 

Though Di Maria is a superb player, their need for attackers is far less than their need for midfielders and defenders.

Without a crop of gritty, unglamorous players like Fernando and Nemanja Matic at Manchester City and Chelsea, respectively, United's title hopes remain slim at best.

Fernando represents the type of strong, ball-winning center midfielder United need
Fernando represents the type of strong, ball-winning center midfielder United needAlastair Grant/Associated Press

In buying Di Maria, United still haven't addressed their two biggest needs.

Because of that, the fee for Di Maria seems pricey and a bit unreasonable.

All stats and info via Squawka and