When Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal told journalists ‘…we don’t have wingers of the highest level, like [Cristiano] Ronaldo or [Angel] Di Maria…’ during his first summer at Old Trafford, he can’t have imagined chief executive Ed Woodward would wrap up the signing of the latter a few weeks later.
Back then, the Iron Tulip insisted he had to ‘play another way’ due to the lack of wide options available, but events since strongly suggest Van Gaal just can’t accommodate ‘true’ wingers.
If Di Maria was as adept at defending as he is going forward, like United winger-turned-right-back Antonio Valencia, then he wouldn’t be facing a Premier League exit less than 12 months after signing on with the 13-time champions.
Van Gaal gave a pretty clear clue as to what he was really thinking at last summer’s World Cup, when fielding Dirk Kuyt on the left of a five-man backline, tasking the former Liverpool striker/wide-forward to run the flank, with Daryl Janmaat patrolling on the other side.
He repeated the pattern at United once Michael Carrick returned from injury in November last season, leaving the Geordie as midfield anchorman with Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera generally just ahead, while Valencia and Daley Blind or Luke Shaw marshalled the wide areas.
As the Red Devils’ 2015 transfer strategy unfolds, it seems clear Van Gaal will stick to a variation of this system, with right wing-back Matteo Darmian, box-to-box midfielders Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, and wide-forward Memphis Depay perfectly suited to such tactics.
Di Maria’s Old Trafford goose looked ready to come off the spit some time ago, so it would be no surprise to see the Argentine jump ship for Paris Saint-Germain before the second week of September, but Ashley Young might feel a tad peeved that contract talks between himself and the club have stalled.
Having looked surplus to requirements when Van Gaal took over, the England international successfully came infield from his old touchline-hugging berth to bag two Premier League goals and lay on another five for teammates during 2014/15.
Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he’ll be back down the pecking order come the start of the new campaign, with United sure to throw £31m capture Depay, clearly more of a natural in the position after bagging 22 Eredivisie goals for PSV last term, straight into the action.
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