Fresh from sealing a £59.7 million move to Manchester United, Angel Di Maria took to the field against Germany in Dusseldorf looking to avenge Argentina's World Cup final defeat just 59 days after their Maracana heartache.
With Lionel Messi absent, the former Real Madrid ace took it upon himself to be the side’s stand-in talisman and played a devastating role as Gerardo Martino picked up a 4-2 victory in his maiden game in charge away to the world champions.
|PERFORMANCE AGAINST GERMANY|
After a disappointing debut for Manchester United in which he limped off prematurely and struggled to connect with his new team-mates, a return to the familiar surroundings of the Albiceleste was fully embraced by Di Maria as he inspired his nation to a stunning victory.
A recent report by The Football Observatory suggested United had overpaid for the Argentine by a whopping £23.9m but a performance full of flair, invention and penetration against a side who added a fifth star to their jersey just two months ago suggests that he will be worth every penny.
From the very first whistle Di Maria showed a willingness to drive forward and commit defenders, with Die Mannschaft's high line and commitment to get forward routinely exposed by a counter-orientated Argentina – Borussia Dortmund's Erik Durm, who lined up against Di Maria, was seeing stars by the time that his fleet-footed opponent was substituted in the 86th minute.
The 26-year-old began the match on the right flank, exploiting space with his terrifying pace to tee-up team-mates and test Manuel Neuer himself. After 20 minutes Di Maria created the first breakthrough, curling a delicious cross into the path of new domestic rival Sergio Aguero, who blasted the ball into the roof of the net.
More goals followed, with a customarily pulsating burst forward producing a pin-point cross that was side-foot volleyed into the top corner by Erik Lamela – another player who impressed under Martino.
Di Maria did not let up after the half-time break and had helped put two goals past substitute Roman Weidenfeller before the Dortmund keeper had even touched the ball. First the United attacker sent a pinpoint free kick into the box which was converted by Swansea City's Federico Fernandez (continuing the Premier League theme), before netting himself.
The former Benfica playmaker's fine run and finish capped a stunning individual display in which he terrorised the German back line and left United fans salivating. Di Maria was a class apart from a match flooded with world-class players and, if he can replicate this level at Old Trafford, then there will be little doubt that he is worthy of the hallowed No.7 jersey.
As soon as Di Maria took to the field in Dusseldorf it was immediately apparent that he was ready to put on a show and silence a capacity crowd who had turned out to honour their World Cup heroes. The first blow of the night came from a physics-defying outside-of-the-boot cross that arched beautifully into the fabled corridor of uncertainty before Aguero rifled home.
That that would not be Di Maria's most magical moment of the night says much about the United attacker's performance. Instead, his piece de resistance came just after the restart.
Embarking on a run that began in his own half and would be more reminiscent of former Madrid team-mate Gareth Bale, Di Maria exchanged passes with Pablo Zabaleta and ploughed into the box. Running at full pelt, he then had the presence of mind and sheer arrogance to dink the ball over both the sliding challenge of centre-back Benedikt Howedes and the helpless Weidenfeller. It was a stunning finish and a goal of unrivalled class in a thrilling match.
|WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?|
Manchester United fans might have been a little cautious over just how great an impact Di Maria would have at Old Trafford, at least initially, after he struggled to help his new side break down newly promoted Burnley on an underwhelming debut.
But a hat-trick of assists, an incredible solo goal and a man-of-the-match display against Germany have highlighted what an incredible talent he is.
Wayne Rooney may be United's skipper and Robin van Persie may have a close relationship with Louis van Gaal but Di Maria's recent form for club and country – he was the leading assister in La Liga last season and helped Argentina to the World Cup final, lest we forget – suggest that it is merely a matter of time before the club-record signing becomes the team's focal point.
Van Gaal famously values players with versatility and Di Maria showed that in spades against the world champions. He started on the right wing, cutting onto his favoured left foot and raiding down the flank, before switching sides as well as having a spell in the in the hole.
At Turf Moor he lined up in a deeper role as a central midfielder but comments made before he arrived in Manchester suggest that Van Gaal will begin to use him on the flank, where he was so devastating on Wednesday night.
"At this moment, we have five No.9s and four No.10s – and we don't have wingers to give us attacking width," said the Dutchman at the start of August. "Or, I should say, we don't have wingers of the highest level, like Cristiano Ronaldo or Di Maria or somebody like that. So, I have to play in another way."
With Di Maria now at the club and in such scintillating form, it may not be long before he is handed a starring role on the flank and allows Van Gaal to, at least, ditch a 3-5-2 formation that been troublesome so far.