As the transfer window nears an end, one of the biggest sagas of the summer looks to be taking a big turn. According to Sky Sports’ journalist Guillem Balague, Barcelona have given up on signing Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, and are now focusing on other targets. Among those targets is PSG winger Angel di Maria, who would likely be available for a fee in the region of £40m. Could be about to see the two clubs do business for the second time this summer?
— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) August 21, 2017
A dark horse
Di Maria is arguably one of the most mercurial talents in European football. In 2014, he was regarded as one of the top players in Europe – winning the Man of the Match award in the Champions League final – before earning a big-money move to Manchester United. After a bright start, personal issues savaged the Argentine’s personal life and his form on the pitch began to drastically decline.
It took less than a season for his stock to fall from £59.6m to £44m, as Di Maria swapped Manchester from Paris in July 2015; after he was voted as the worst signing of the season by various British media outlets, mind. With his spell in the Premier League blotting his previously immaculate CV, Di Maria headed to Ligue 1 with a point to prove.
Although his time with PSG has been successful, Di Maria has not managed to break back into the world-class bracket of players that he was a VIP member of during his time with Real Madrid. He has starred for the Parisiens in patches but has often found it hard to consistently produce the talent that everybody knows he is capable of; 10 goals and 18 assists in his first season was followed by six goals and seven assists last year.
Hot and cold
There is no better example of this than last season’s Champions League tie against his suitors Barcelona. In the first leg, Di Maria scored twice and combined with Julian Draxler to run rings around Barcelona’s defence and win the Man of the Match award in a 4-0 victory. Then in the second leg – as he was introduced as a 55th-minute substitute – the winger was passive apart from a one-on-one chance he had to kill off the tie for PSG; he missed horribly.
|Di Maria vs. Barcelona||Goals||Key Passes||Pass Accuracy||Unsuccessful Touches||Match Rating (whoscored.com)|
|1st Leg 16/17||2||4||79.2%||0||9.13|
|2nd Leg 16/17||0||0||30%||5||5.69|
Yet, as with many things in football, it’s swings and roundabouts as Barcelona are now reportedly looking to replace the man who led them through that night with the one that faltered so badly. The 29-year-old is undoubtedly still a class player, but he certainly represents a different profile of player to Coutinho, who now looks to be staying at Anfield.
How does Di Maria fit Barca?
The traditional Ángel di María is not a direct alternative to Philippe Coutinho, that’s a fact. The Argentine would be a more natural backup option for the deal to bring Ousmane Dembele to the club; a player that will hog the touchline, stretch the play and make things happen from the left-wing. Yet, as he enters his thirties, Di Maria’s adapting his game.
As seen in the table above, Di Maria’s key statistics against Barcelona revolved around his passing abilities, as opposed to his dribbling. This is something that remained consistent throughout his yearly statistics. In Ligue 1, he made an average of 2.7 key passes last season and only 1.3 dribbles. This led to 7 assists, which was 11 down on his number the year before. This could have been a change in relationship from Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Edinson Cavani; he made 8 goals for the Swede in 2015/16 and only 4 for the Uruguayan in 2016/17.
|Angel Di Maria|
at PSG (Ligue 1
|Passes per Game||Completed Takeons||Chance Created|
|2015/16||10 G / 18 A||3.4||53.2||55/96 (57%)||98|
|2016/17||6 G / 7 A||2.7||42.3||37/64 (58%)||77|
Either way, it raises the question as to whether Di Maria’s role in Barcelona’s system could be flexible? Many considered Coutinho’s prospective signing to be a foreshadowing of Andres Iniesta’s gradually reducing role at the Camp Nou, and Di Maria could potentially find himself playing as the advanced midfielder in Barcelona’s three behind the attack.
Can he be a success?
The Argentina international could certainly be a success at Barcelona. He’s a player that thrives with space to play in, and the Camp Nou is the perfect stage for a performer of his ilk. Barcelona were horrendous on the counterattack against Real Madrid, there are no two ways about it, as Gerard Deulofeu and Ivan Rakitic were too slow and indecisive to exploit the empty spaces. Di Maria would add both pace and intelligent, decisive attacking actions which would be much closer to the levels of Luis Suarez and his compatriot Lionel Messi.
If Barcelona do manage to add both Di Maria and Dembele, then Valverde has an attack which will be almost unrecognisable from the tepid turnout at the Santiago Bernabeu. The Argentine is not a long-term option – his sell-on value will only decrease – but looking at past Barcelona sides this isn’t an issue for them. The likes of David Villa and Thierry Henry both had success after joining the side at a similar age, and Di Maria has certainly not lost his pace, which would prove so vital to Barcelona’s stagnant attack.
He’s a big-game player for a big-game side, and at £40m would represent fairly good value in the modern market. It would save the club close to £100m from what they would have paid for Philippe Coutinho, and for a player that can be more effectively versatile between the left-wing and central-midfield roles that Valverde so desperately yearns for. If Barcelona fans can forgive Di Maria’s former ties with their Clásico rivals, then they may have one of the signings of the summer.
Do you think that ex-Real Madrid man Ángel di María would be a good signing for Barcelona? Let us know in the poll and the comments below!
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