The summer signing of Italian full-back Matteo Darmian to Manchester United raised the eyebrows of many football fans. Despite the concerns, the defender blossomed throughout his first month at The Theatre of Dreams. However, for the months that have followed, his form has dipped and has suffered in terms of game time. But how has his form declined so rapidly after such a positive start?
The Milan youth player started his career at Old Trafford in a positive state, performing well on his debut against Tottenham. Strong games followed from the 26 year old, earning himself United’s Player of the Month award for August. September’s encounter against Southampton at St Mary’s was the first time Darmian found it hard to deal with an opposing winger. That winger came in the form of Serbian, Dušan Tadi?. Darmian had a torrid afternoon, as Tadi? set up Southampton’s first goal within the first 15 minutes. He was eventually substituted at half time by Antonio Valencia.
This would’ve most certainly dented the right-backs confidence, especially as United turned the game around in the second half to win the game 3-2. The views of Louis Van Gaal after the Southampton match was not music to the Italians ears. He said – “He [Darmian] gave too much space to Tadi? in my opinion, so that’s why I brought on Valencia, I wanted to eliminate that with Valencia and he did that very well I think.” Although Darmian played the occasional solid game, he hasn’t seemed to have recovered from his 45 minute encounter against the Saints. This can be said to be bad on manager Louis van Gaal’s behalf, as summer signings need time to adapt to the style of the Premier League, even if they have from the start of the campaign.
Fortunately for the £12 million signing from Torino, Antonio Valencia suffered a foot injury in October during the Manchester derby that requires surgery, ruling himself out for at least 4 months. And with the summer departure of Rafael to French side Lyon, this paves the way for Darmian to fill the vacated full-back position.
Van Gaal, however, likes to play the Italian at both left and right-back, catering for Northern Irishman Paddy McNair or Ashley Young when defensive options are limited. Darmian has played the last two league games at left-back, catering for McNair on both occasions. His performance against Leicester was not a positive one, allowing Jamie Vardy to run in behind him, to score in a record breaking eleventh Premier League game.
Another reason why Darmian’s performances are declining is because of the playing style or ‘philosophy’ that Louis van Gaal abides by. Many have criticized the style of play, questioning whether it is of a top 4 calibre side. Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson was quick to criticize the play that United deploy, saying – “Unless you get movement and you get pace then you will struggle; I think for me it’s a bit like watching a Subbuteo team at the moment watching Manchester United.”
These are strong words from Merson, but are correct to an extent which does have an effect on Darmain’s overall game. This side to side football gives little benefit to full-backs who want to get forward and overlap. This cannot be done with the football currently being played at Old Trafford, mainly because the lack of penetrative football increases the chance of possession being lost in vulnerable areas. During the latter stages of matches the style rarely chances, with players like Darmian being forced to play long balls up to their striker, rather than getting the ball down and playing football that is appreciated by a wider audience.
It seems that it can be a somewhat difficult task to maintain a good working relationship with Louis van Gaal if the way his team plays is ever questioned. This is perfectly shown by the treatment goalkeeper Victor Valdes is currently receiving at Old Trafford. If Darmian can keep his head down and fight for the cause that is Manchester United, he should gain the confidence that he had during the month of August. The only other United player to sign from Torino was a certain Denis Law back in 1962. If his time at Manchester United is half as successful as what Law’s was, he’s got a very bright future ahead of him.
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