Saturday’s 3-0 win over Hull City may have been United’s most complete performance of the season, and the hard-fought 2-1 victory over Stoke last night may even have resulted in Louis Van Gaal cracking a smile and looking as though he is enjoying life in Manchester, but it came at a big price.
The home win, United’s fifth in six Premier League games at Old Trafford since losing to Swansea City on the opening day, saw record signing Angel Di Maria hobble off with a hamstring problem and has left Van Gaal reliant on his other stars for creativity.
Di Maria started his Old Trafford career in exceptional form, with two goals and two assists in his first three Premier League games, but he has slowed down somewhat of late and hasn’t found the back of the net since 5th October. Despite this, Di Maria remains central to much of United’s attacking play and even when he isn’t scoring or laying on goals for others he is a constant threat and creates space for his teammates by holding the attention of defenders.
No Substitute for Pace
Losing Di Maria for however long he remains unavailable for will hit Van Gaal’s men hard. United may have scored three goals in the 77 minutes after his departure against Hull City but they cannot adequately replace his pace. If they are to keep winning then Premier League betting punters and United fans alike know that they will need their other stars to step up. Against Hull City, Robin Van Persie was the man to take Di Maria’s mantle, scoring his first goal in over a month and providing an assist to Wayne Rooney. After failing to live up to his own high standards against Arsenal a week earlier it was a welcome return to form for the Dutchman.
Flatter to Deceive
Another big name forward that has flattered to deceive this season has been Radamel Falcao. Having missed the last four Premier League games, the on-loan Colombian returned against Hull City and could be given a starting berth in Di Maria’s absence, but the United fans will be desperate to see more from him. Despite his huge reputation, and reported pay packet, Falcao has managed just one goal in the Premier League so far this season- two less than Danny Welbeck who was forced into a move South by his arrival. If United are to extend their unbeaten league run to four games against Stoke City on Tuesday then they will need Falcao to fire.
With the arrival of the likes of Di Maria and Falcao at the club there was some concern that Wayne Rooney may have struggled to find a settled place in the team. These fears have proved to be unfounded and he has enjoyed an excellent season so far, working well alongside the Argentinian Di Maria. In Di Maria’s absence United will become even more reliant on their captain for creative spark, and Rooney must continue to deliver if they are to keep up their challenge for a top four place. If Rooney, Falcao and Van Persie can finally click as a combination then Luis Van Gaal will have little to worry about whilst Di Maria remains injured. If, however, the three continue to struggle to gel and to bring the best out of each other the Dutch manager will be very tempted to rush Di Maria back into his side.