Angel Di Maria
It is an odd perspective to take on a player who has consistently ranked as one of the foremost attacking talents in Europe since joining Real Madrid from Benfica in June 2010 for a fee worth in excess of €30 million; however, Angel di Maria’s 2013/14 campaign can be accurately seen to constitute the 26 year-old Argentine’s break-out season in Spain.
Di Maria’s influence from a new central offensive midfield role proved a key catalyst in bringing about Real’s seminal double-winning campaign last time out; the Argentine then went on to star for his national side at the World Cup before injury prematurely ended his participation in Brazil.
Di Maria was a massively productive and consistent performer for Real last season. He made 46 appearances over the course of the Champions League and Copa del Rey wining campaign, netting eight times and assisting teammates’ goals on a further twenty-two occasions. The creative thrust that di Maria has provided for Madrid from his new central role has more than compensated for the loss of Mesut Ozil last summer and has shown up the unimaginative and staunch conservatism of the Mourinho era at the Bernabeu. The Portuguese coach severely limited di Maria’s ability to express himself in an offensive context during his time in charge at Real, insisting on utilizing the Argentine only as an inverted winger, isolated on the right hand side of the pitch, throughout his time in the dug-out.
Ancelotti’s arrival combined with the tactical shift that the Ozil sale and the Bale arrival effected has served to provide di Maria’s Real career with a new lease of life. Indeed, it looked as though it would be the Argentine and not Ozil who would be heading to the Emirates last summer until Ancelotti made clear to the board his belief that di Maria could perform in a more central role behind Bale, Benzema, and Ronaldo.
Di Maria performed strongly through his opening two years in Madrid, however, he always seemed a something of a saleable asset in the context of the incredibly high-standards that Europe’s most successful club demands. The Argentine netted 11 and assisted 15 in his debut season in Madrid, and these figures shifted in the 2012/13 campaign 8 goals and 14 assists, operating on the wing.
The decision to retain di Maria’s services, however, was certainly legitimized by his performances through the previous campaign and the Argentine has now firmly enshrined himself as the automatic pick in the no. 10 role ahead of the prodigiously talented Isco for the foreseeable future.
The crowning moment of di Maria’s time in Madrid undoubtedly came in Lisbon in the Champions League Final against Atletico in May 2014. It was di Maria’s late burst of energy which stretched and opened up the Atletico defence in extra time and enabled him to fire dangerously across goal, setting up Bale to convert what would ultimately prove the decima winning goal.
If di Maria’s improvement through the 2013/14 campaign is any indicator of what his future holds, Madridistas the world over have much to be excited about. The prospect of the ethereal Argentine combining with the dynamic passing game of the club’s new German arrival, Toni Kroos, behind the BBC in attack is mouth-watering.