One swing of his trusty left foot on Wednesday night and Angel Di Maria sealed Paris Saint-Germain’s place in the final of the Coupe de la Ligue. Despite Toulouse holding tough for around 65 minutes, the Argentinian’s goal crowned off the 2-0 victory and had the Parisians on their feet in appreciation.
Since arriving in the summer, the 27-year-old from Rosario has been a revelation in the French capital. Wednesday’s goal took his tally for the season to 12—added to his 12 assists, and it’s hard to see anyone in France challenging him for Player of the Season honours when the UNFP awards roll around.
Considering he plays on a team with Thiago Silva, Blaise Matuidi and the iconic Zlatan Ibrahimovic, there is little doubt that the former Real Madrid star is currently head and shoulders above the level of his team-mates.
When his move to PSG was first mentioned, it was questioned whether or not the club needed him. Would it take away playing time from Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore—two players who had contributed so much to the club’s first-ever quadruple. Coming on against Monaco for his debut, all those doubts were washed away with one swipe of his left boot.
A tremendous ball over the top of the Monegasque defence found the run of Ezequiel Lavezzi, the winger stuck away the chance and Di Maria had announced himself in Ligue 1.
Di Maria had endured a difficult season at Manchester United. After a positive start, his inability to adapt to English life and difficulties off the pitch disrupted his influence on Louis van Gaal’s team. That was all put behind him after one phone call from PSG manager Laurent Blanc.
Di Maria told beIN Sports (h/t Sky Sports):
It happened the same way when [Jose] Mourinho made me come to Real Madrid. They called me before and I spoke with them. Blanc called me when he was in the United States and I was still on holiday.
He said he was very happy to recruit me, that he had wanted me for several seasons. Obviously, this gave me an added incentive to sign for PSG.
PSG didn’t need Di Maria to win Ligue 1, his inclusion was mostly brought about to help the club succeed in the Champions League. It took him just four minutes against Malmo to score his first of the competition and his first goal for the club.
Sensational both at the Parc des Princes and on their travels—finishing with a goal and an assist in the win over Guingamp and the away win against Nantes. He followed that up with another two goals as PSG romped 5-0 past Malmo in Sweden.
Di Maria has made the spot on the right of Blanc’s 4-3-3 his own. Drifting inside onto his left foot, he can also play a little deeper—as he showed on Wednesday—to accommodate other attacking options. Plain and simple, all Blanc needs to do is select the former Benfica man in his starting XI and Angel does the rest.
One of his best performances so far came at home against Lyon. They were PSG’s closest rivals last season, but with the Argentinian at the heart of their play, Les Gones couldn’t compete. Di Maria was the conductor as PSG orchestrated the 5-1 destruction of OL. He may not appear on the scoresheet, but with three assists and some superb all-around play, he was majestic.
French journalist Julien Laurens wrote this week for ESPN FC, "Only Neymar, Mesut Ozil, Dimitri Payet and Kevin De Bruyne have made more key passes per game this season than Angel Di Maria."
He may not receive the praise he deserves due to playing in Ligue 1, but part of PSG’s domestic dominance has come about because of how well Di Maria has played.
Before the 2-0 win over Bastia at the start of January, Blanc told the French press (via ESPN FC):
I honestly think that the city of Paris and the French mentality suits him. That's what he's said to me anyway.
I think his adaptation has been a lot quicker than in Manchester, for example, for numerous reasons.
When he masters the language a bit more, he'll feel more at ease on the pitch and in everyday life. I think that will be characterised by a second half of the season that will be even better than the first.
Those are scary words from the PSG boss, especially after Di Maria has already contributed six goals and nine assists in Ligue 1 this campaign. However, just when you thought he was playing at his highest level, he turned it up another gear over the last week.
Incase you missed Di Maria's goal. pic.twitter.com/mEYcNTe4ZX— ❤️=⚽️ (@Total_Futbol_) January 26, 2016
Two stunning strikes against Angers put the Ligue 1 new boys to the sword—capped off with his goal on Wednesday to fire PSG into the final of the Coupe de la Ligue.
Five months ago, it was difficult to see where he would fit into Laurent Blanc's 4-3-3—now it's impossible to imagine life without him.