Following last night’s 2-1 FA Cup defeat, Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal informed the media he would review the video of his team’s performance and determine whether or not there were any positives to be taken from the loss.
What the Dutchman will see when he takes to the game film is better execution of his game plan, mixed with poor individual performances and desperate acts from some players.
Van Gaal will be particularly keen to sit down one-on-one with Angel di Maria.
Yes, Di Maria contributed to United’s first goal with a perfectly-timed cross to Wayne Rooney who finished off the sequence with a well-placed header. But the winger’s defending and diving throughout the match against Arsenal will be something Van Gaal will have to address privately with the Argentine.
Di Maria is clearly having difficulty adapting to English football. After a good start, the former Real Madrid player has struggled with injuries, up-and-down performances and was the victim of a home invasion.
In my opinion, the player has clearly been shaken by having his home broken into a few months ago. You can say that is an excuse. However, imagine you are home with your family – just you, your wife and baby. Suddenly you hear noises in your house or the alarm goes off. We’re not talking about creaking noises in the middle of the night. This is people trying to break into your home.
Also imagine you have been living in a foreign country for only a few months. What would you do? Who do you call for help? How would you react?
Since that time, Di Maria moved his family to a hotel and has put his home up for sale. Also, due to the trauma of the event, he and his family are under 24-hour guard.
In addition to the attempted break in, Di Maria’s performances have been under tremendous scrutiny due to the expectations left by his British-record transfer fee. Over the past few games, the Argentine has been substituted due to his inconsistent play and his frustration hasn’t been hidden from television cameras.
The pressure has continued to mount on the midfielder who many people believed was one of the top five players in the world. Rumors have continued to circulate about his happiness and future with the club.
Then, last night, with the eyes of the footballing world on him, Di Maria hit rock bottom.
He completely stopped defending during the buildup that lead to Arsenal’s first goal. For those who watched the game live and saw the halftime analysis by the BBC, you saw the winger highlighted as he literally stood and watched the Gunners finish the sequence that gave them an early one-goal lead.
Again, Di Maria would vindicate himself with a fantastic cross to Rooney. However, Arsenal players gave the winger time and space to pick a teammate out with a pass – something his opponents wouldn’t do for the remainder of the contest.
For the rest of the match, Di Maria wasn’t given space to operate and he responded by diving. It was Spanish football at its worst.
There were six or seven clear dives before the incident which led to him grabbing referee Michael Oliver’s shirt and being sent off. His actions were those of a desperate man who just hasn’t been able to perform near his best level. Someone who has hit his rock bottom.
United fans will be hoping the struggling player has nowhere else to go but up.
Just to get this out of the way. Di Maria was not at fault for United’s FA Cup defeat last night. But he played a part in it.
As a former coach, I can sympathize with players and the personal struggles they go through. Louis van Gaal has also stated he believes in the ‘human experience’ for his players. That isn’t an excuse used by coaches and managers when their players are struggling. It is a fact.
During his next pre-match press conference, we can expect Van Gaal to be questioned about Di Maria’s actions against Arsenal. He’ll be quizzed about the player’s mental state and the constant speculation regarding his happiness in England.
Van Gaal will undoubtedly give an honest response regarding Di Maria’s performance on Monday night and explain how he plans to tackle United’s next match against Tottenham.
United fans will be hoping Di Maria has hit rock bottom and starts his climb upwards. Because now the most important thing is for the talented winger to make a difference during the club’s remaining games.
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