Wednesday nights Champions League tie between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain brought the return of one Angel Di Maria to English shores for the first time since his acrimonious exit from Old Trafford.
Last season, after his red card against Arsenal, I wrote about how Louis van Gaal needed to stick with Di Maria. Players of such ability are few and far between, and as Sir Alex Ferguson understood, there are certain players that need to be given a little more room for error than others (a certain Cristiano Ronaldo for one). Di Maria was one of those players, and LVG let him go.
DI Maria's performance on Wednesday was outstanding, he was at the hub of everything going forward for a crisp passing PSG team. Clearly he had a point to prove. But is his improved form since moving to the French capital because Di Maria spent his time in England sulking? Was it because he didn't like the weather? Was it because of the unfortunate home invasion? No. LVG's strict 'philosophy' meant a player like Di Maria would always struggle to adapt, and certainly struggle to enjoy his football. His game flourishes when taking risks, just as it does young Memphis, something LVG couldn't find a place for in his system. One gets the feeling Sir Alex might have found a way to accommodate his considerable talents.
Players like Di Maria perform best when they make decisions in the flow of the game, playing with a degree of instinct. It seemed under LVG, that this had been taken away from him. Yes he comes with an element of risk, the dreaded loss of possession, but when the rewards are so high, a manager of Van Gaal's pedigree should be able to make it work. The fact is, PSG also play a possession game, in fact, their passing is a lot more fluid than anything Manchester United have managed since LVG's first pre-season. Di Maria himself had a pass completion percentage of 92.3% in the game and 3 completed crosses from 6 attempts (whoscored.com). Yes this was just one game, one he was extremely motivated for, but while Blanc's ethos seems similar in some ways to LVG's, he allows Di Maria to drift and affect the game the best way he knows how.
Blanc recognises what Van Gaal hasn't, it's tough to win if you don't take the odd risk. Granted those risks led to Thiago Motta losing the ball in a dangerous area, resulting in Chelsea's equaliser, but the damage was done with the first away goal, Chelsea were always chasing the game at that point. PSG looked liable to score at any time, the pace and creativity of Di Maria and Lucas causing the flat footed Chelsea defence no end of problems. They knew how demoralising those away goals would be and they were greatly rewarded for their endeavour. Take note Louis, goals win games.
The sight of Di Maria flowing Forward at will, show-boating, assisting(!) and winning(!) must have been difficult for Manchester United fans to swallow. However, I for one was just happy to see him unshackled, enjoying his football without being weighed down by the burden of maintaining 70% possession. Angel is free again, and it's a joy to watch.