Speaking with French television channel Canal+ in the build-up to tonight’s mammoth Champions League clash between PSG and Real Madrid, Angel Di Maria admitted that the home and away fixtures will be emotional affairs for him.
“If I ever score a goal I won't celebrate because, deep in my heart, I'll never forget what I experienced at Real,” said the Argentine when asked how he would react if he finds the net this week.
“I don't know how the fans are going to react. I left in the best possible way by winning the 10th Champions League title. I always showed my affection and for the last match they gave me a nice ovation. It'll be good for me to play at the Bernabeu again.”
Courted in Paris
Before departing Madrid for the briefest of spells at Manchester United, Di Maria helped los Blancos end their 12-year quest to become record European champions for the 10th time.
El Fideo was voted man of the match as Real struck late in Lisbon to take rivals Atletico to extra-time, before Carlo Ancelotti’s men ran riot in extra-time, eventually winning 4-1.
Di Maria was a key part of the Italian’s successful squad, scoring three goals and providing six assists in the competition that year. Only future United team-mate Wayne Rooney laid on more in the Champions League that season, weighing in with eight for the Red Devils.
The South American’s time in Madrid ended acrimoniously and the player made an ill-fated move to Old Trafford in late August of 2014 as the most expensive British transfer of all time.
Despite his eventual destination, the former Benfica man had flirted with French giants PSG all summer and even reportedly agreed financial terms with the Ligue 1 champions before UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) limitations scuppered the switch.
Less than 12 months after pitching up in Manchester, though, Di Maria was on the move again and this time he did end up in Paris. The capital club acquired the Argentine star for less than United paid Real for him – around £44 million – and now he will line up against the club that decided to let him go after clinching la Decima.
Appearances: 8 (all comps)
It wasn’t the easiest of starts to life in Paris for Di Maria. The winger injured himself in Argentina’s agonising penalties defeat to Chile in the Copa America final, and that hamstring twang kept him out of action until the fourth round of Ligue 1 games, when PSG travelled to Stade Louis II to take on Monaco in an early-season clash between title favourites and hopefuls.
Parisians were keen to see what their new arrival could do, having ignited Di Maria Fever weeks before when he was unveiled by the French champions in a glitzy ceremony at the lavish Shangri-La Hotel, and then again before a straightforward 2-0 win over top-flight newcomers Ajaccio.
They got their answer almost immediately. Introduced after 66 minutes in place of Lucas Moura, Di Maria instantly whipped in an inviting cross that two-goal Edinson Cavani met with his head but failed to convert. El Matador scored minutes later from a Zlatan Ibrahimovic pass, but he should have given Di Maria an immediate assist by giving justice to the brilliant cross that would have provided him his treble.
Instead, PSG’s new No.11 had to wait until the 83rd minute to register his first assist in his new colours. With a breathtaking lofted through ball from inside his own half (see it below), Di Maria found fellow Argentina international Ezequiel Lavezzi, who scurried onto the pass before finishing with aplomb past Danijel Subasic.
Much too much?
The Monaco assist was a taste of things to come. After a relatively uneventful 90-minute home debut in a 2-2 draw against Bordeaux, Di Maria kick-started his PSG career properly – within four minutes of Malmo’s visit in the Champions League opener, he netted in front of the Auteuil end of the stadium with a superb angled finish.
PSG were vindicated; it was a demonstration of just why the French giants were so desperate to acquire his services since it became obvious he would be leaving Real back in the summer of 2014.
A quiet 24-minute substitute appearance in a 1-1 draw at Stade de Reims followed, but then the 27-year-old really showed what he brings to this PSG side with his performances in consecutive wins over Guingamp and Nantes. Against the Bretons he scored an opportunistic late second from a rebounded Ibrahimovic effort, before turning provider for the Swede to complete a 3-0 win in the capital.
Then, just four days later, the man from Rosario scored a superb lobbed effort from a sublime Javier Pastore pass and assisted a clinical Cavani header in a 4-1 win.
But not all has been rosy. Di Maria has been guilty of trying to do too much by himself since arriving in Paris, and the former Manchester United man came across a bit selfish in both games. However, despite a few greedy moments, his start to life with PSG has largely been a solid one.
By being deployed wide on the right of a front three alongside Ibrahimovic and Cavani, there is no doubt that the Argentine has given Laurent Blanc’s men greater width and that les Parisiens look more dangerous with him in the starting XI.
Di Maria has worked his way back to full fitness after a lack of pre-season, and his break from international football during September pause (he was excused from Albiceleste duty along with PSG team-mate Pastore) certainly helped with his recovery.
After two full 90-minute games for Argentina during the latest batch of international fixtures, and the gruelling travel that applies to most South American players, PSG boss Laurent Blanc was mindful of leaving Di Maria out of last Saturday’s 2-0 win away at SC Bastia. And, having given the ex-Real Madrid man that time off, the ex-France skipper will be expecting a big performance from the star summer signing facing his former club.
“He has great respect for Real so he will be motivated,” Blanc noted in his pre-match press conference. “However, he must not be too motivated and play the match over in his head before it takes place.
“His early season has been average. He is aware of this. But, as he feels good in Paris, his adaptation should continue to go well.”
Di Maria is already an important element of PSG’s starting XI, but plenty more is expected of the £44 million man in the French capital – and rightly so.
The Argentine star was bought for the biggest Champions League games, and has shown glimpses of his ability to help his new team on that stage in the win over Malmo. But now he and his team-mates must make a statement of intent at Parc des Princes on Wednesday to seize control of Group A. It might just shape his own – and his manager’s – future.
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