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.
Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line
The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.
The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.
Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”
The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.
Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.
Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.
From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.
Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.
Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.
Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.
This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.
But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.
In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.
Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
Despite improvement, Everton should not rekindle Thomas Vermaelen interest
The Belgian defender has been in better form for Barcelona this season.
Rumours have emerged today suggesting Everton could be back in for Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.
Catalan newspaper Sport has reported that the 32-year-old could be offered a new deal by Barcelona, with a team from the Premier League interested in signing him.
Sport Witness has openly hypothesised that Everton could be that team. Whilst there is no confirmation or substantiated report that is the case, the boot certainly fits.
Last summer Everton tried to sign Vermaelen.
As reported by the Liverpool Echo, at the time Barcelona vetoed a loan move to Everton as they felt the defender could be a useful asset.
The Belgian certainly has. After struggling with injuries and form throughout most of his Barcelona tenure the former Arsenal man has enjoyed a good season.
The 32-year-old has been a genuine asset to the Catalans, despite still being used sparingly, and such form has even seen him win back a place in Roberto Martinez’s national selection for Belgium.
If it is Everton interested in Vermaelen it is easy to see why. Centre-back has been a major problem for the club this season.
However, Vermaelen, or a player of his ilk, is not the answer to the Toffees’ woes.
The Belgian is obviously a talented player with plenty of experience, but Everton need to freshen up their back-line.
Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka’s age has shown in recent months.
The pair have been, at the best, inconsistent for the past 18 months and Everton need fresh young talent in the heart of defence if they are to succeed.
Vermaelen is not only 32 but also immensely injury prone. Everton need reliable figures to plug their leaky defences and the Belgian can simply not be relied upon.
Whilst on paper it seems a good deal, and one Everton could certainly turn to their benefit.
The truth is supporters of the Goodison Park outfit will hope they are not the club reportedly keen on bringing Vermaelen back to the Premier League.
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