Having broken their previous transfer record — £37m paid to Chelsea for Juan Mata — to sign Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid for £59.7m, the question now becomes where to play the Argentine in the current Manchester United team.
Di Maria is a left-footed winger, who in years gone by would have seamlessly slipped into a United team, which was built on wingers and renowned for it. Now, however, under new boss Louis van Gaal, United have been deploying a 3-5-2 formation instead, and looking at that particular lineup, it’s hard to initially see just where Di Maria will fit in best. The formation does not use traditional wingers and the Argentine would be wasted playing as a wing back.
In other positions, Mata himself has finally began to flicker with life playing in behind two strikers, so demoting him to the bench to accommodate Di Maria may not necessarily be the answer either. The strikers are Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie and you cannot imagine either of those two being dropped any time soon.
So, will Di Maria play central midfield? United are desperate, but they cannot be that desperate, surely? Di Maria has played in a central area at times last season, but he did so in a 4-3-3, not in a two-man midfield — that idea seems very unlikely too. The most realistic options for Di Maria seem to be in the wing back position or dropping Mata to the bench.
That is in the current 3-5-2 formation United are using, though, perhaps a change of formation could now be on the agenda, that would make more sense. In the past, van Gaal has preferred to play a 4-3-3 formation but has previously admitted that he just does not have the right caliber of players at United to play that particular formation. Perhaps in Di Maria, and the emerging Adnan Januzaj, van Gaal now has the quality on the wings he feels he needs to play that way?
Transitioning to a 4-3-3 would in all likelihood mean demoting Mata to the bench, with the Spaniard showing in the past to be ineffective when playing in wide areas and lacking the work rate to play in the center of midfield. It would also mean perhaps moving Rooney to a central midfield position, which he did say he wasn’t too eager to do full time until later in his career.
A 4-2-3-1, however, would instead allow Rooney to play his favored number 10 position behind van Persie, but that formation may leave the team vulnerable considering the fragility of the United defense and central midfield areas. Simply put, there are issues whichever way van Gaal chooses to go. United are signing an undoubted world class player in Di Maria, but it is not a signing that smoothly slots straight into the team without question or uncertainty.
Di Maria can play a number of different positions to varying degrees of success, but which one he will play at Old Trafford, and who will be sacrificed to accommodate the Argentine, are wide open for debate. And though the problem itself, in a strange way, may indeed be a good problem for van Gaal to have, it’s still remains a problem to be solved in order for United to get the best out of both Di Maria and the rest of the team.