It was the nadir, the lowest moment. The red card that followed the immense frustration.
In a season for Manchester United that has hardly been vintage, no one at the club perhaps sums up the Louis Van Gaal era quite like Angel Di Maria. The Argentine has suffered immense criticism in the past few weeks after starting the season on fire; whereas once the press adored the new Man United superstar and how he was going to be the new poster boy, he’s now mocked and slated.
Countless comparisons have been made between the Manchester United number 7, and the Arsenal number 17, Alexis Sanchez. Arguably, they are very similar players in style, full of pace and South American flair, away from that they are very different.
It is the boy from Chile against the boy from Argentina. The Real Madrid unwanted, to the Barcelona misfit. The price has definitely been different; whilst no one could claim that the £32m paid for Sanchez was a small fee by any stretch of the imagination, it is rather dwarfed by the £59.6m needed to bring Di Maria to Old Trafford.
But why has Sanchez excelled in the Premier League, yet Di Maria apparently struggled?
Perhaps the winter break (or lack of it) could be one reason. Sanchez may be the focal point in a team that knows the set up, whereas Di Maria doesn’t have that luxury, but the fact is the Christmas fixture list has had an adverse effect on Di Maria, and even Sanchez has dipped in form; from eight goals in ten games leading up to Christmas, the following ten have yielded three.
In a World Cup year, it’s worth noting that the Arsenal star’s home nation, Chile, exited the tournament a full two weeks before Di Maria’s Argentina were beaten in the final. That may not seem like much, but considering Sanchez knew his future was at London and could take longer to rest, that extra time in preseason has definitely had an effect.
It allowed him to prepare better for the undoubtedly more difficult schedule ahead, unlike Di Maria who arrived late through no fault of his own, and also had to contend with a stuttering team around him and a real culture difference off the pitch, let alone the burglary. Sanchez has looked much fresher than his Man United counterpart, but he isn’t the only one.
At the start of the season, the plaudits were all falling the way of Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard, helped by his experience of the English calendar and his countries’ early exit from the World Cup meant that Fabregas was able to settle instantly into the Premier League again. He responded with 16 assists before Christmas, yet just four since.
It means that Chelsea have gone from looking invincible with Fabregas in full flight, to looking good but vulnerable. The World Cup hangover has affected many; new signing Marcos Rojo has impressed in his debut campaign at Man Utd, yet has suffered his fair share of injuries, likewise Daley Blind.
The lack of a winter break has had a negative effect even on those who didn’t make the World Cup last summer, with no bigger example of that than Southampton. At the start of the season, the Saints were flying, with Eredivise imports Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pellè both the main attractions at St Mary’s. Whereas in the early months, they’ve had noticeable dips in form, and Southampton’s goalscoring prowess has suffered with them.
Despite all the heavy marketing from the likes of Sky and chief executive Richard Scudamore, I don’t actually believe that the Premier League is the best division in the world. But the argument it is the toughest to play in perhaps holds some weight; it’s certainly one of the fastest, where technical players can sometimes suffer and physical attributes favoured. The likes of Diego Forlan and Juan Sebastian Veron, masters on the continent, suffered in the hustle and bustle of the English game.
But maybe it is the pace of the English style football, but rather the fact it is one long slog to the finish line. Football fans would have seen the fast-paced style of the Bundesliga, but the fact there is a gap for the winter gives a chance for players and staff to recharge their batteries, before starting the second half of the season.
That would help Di Maria and the like a great deal right now. It’s obvious Di Maria is a quality player, because you don’t play in Champions League and World Cup finals in the same year if you don’t have quality. Yet for his incredible high work rate, it helped that a month at half time in the season was there, but instead, Di Maria is faced with a relentless fixture list. Nowhere near as relentless as the voices of criticism though, it must be said.