July 29, 2015

Can United’s current players plug the Di Maria hole? by @ETNAR_uk

Can United’s current players plug the Di Maria hole?

A deal to take Angel Di Maria to Paris Saint-Germain looks increasingly likely (at the time of writing, at least). An exciting addition when he signed, his season quite quickly petered out. Despite this, he may still be missed if he leaves.

Even though it’s fairly clear that Di Maria wasn’t the world class player many United fans had hoped he would be last season, he made 2.8 chances per 90 minutes, a high level of production. To give some context, Cesc Fabregas created 2.9 chances per 90 at Chelsea.

The Argentine also took 3.35 shots per 90, 1.1 of which were inside the penalty area, and 46% of the total on target, all of which are encouraging signs from an attacking midfielder. Top level goalscorers tend to have more shots, goals and assists not necessarily being any more reliable in the long term, so these are meaningful statistics to consider. Below is a table of United players’ statistics last season, and it is clear that someone will need to step up to replace him.

Part of this stepping up will come from tactical changes. Without Di Maria, other forward players will probably be encouraged to be more creative, rather than keeping half an eye on defensive work as they may have had to do with Di Maria in the team. Rooney also looks set to play as the main striker this year, which should provide an increase in productivity from the ineffective Van Persie and Falcao, both of whom have moved on.

The recent signing Memphis Depay looks to be the most likely to ‘directly’ replace Di Maria, of the current United players at least. Although in a significantly inferior Dutch Eredivisie, he created 2.11 chances and had 5.74 shots per 90 minutes, with a 47% shooting accuracy and 2.82 of those shots per 90 being taken in the penalty area.

Clearly, these numbers will decrease in the Premier League, and in a team of better quality where he will have to share the shots to a greater extent. It would also not be fair to place the burden of replacing Di Maria on his shoulders, being both new to the squad and extremely young.

A player who may help him share the burden is a year his junior. Though not used much last year, Adnan Januzaj made 1.56 chances and took 2.6 shots per 90, more than Rooney on both counts, although his shot accuracy was far worse – 28% versus Rooney’s 51%.

Despite how it might feel, Di Maria will leave a noticeable hole. There are players in the current squad who post good numbers, but relying on them may be precarious, particularly as two of them are so young and it is completely unknown how Memphis will translate to the Premier League. Should Di Maria leave, United could get by with what they have, but they’d be at risk of players not performing. To be safe, they should probably bring someone in to be their new Angel.

By @ETNAR_uk

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