No one can deny that Ángel Di Maria has left his mark on Europe’s best leagues and clubs in the last decade. He has been crowned champion of the Portuguese League, La Liga and Ligue 1 while winning almost every cup in each country he has played in, with the exceptions of the Portuguese Cup and both English Cups. In addition to his success in domestic competitions, Di Maria has also managed to collect silverware in European competitions. While playing for Real Madrid, he won the UEFA Champions League in the 2013/2014 season and the UEFA Supercup in the 2015/2015 season. At International level he won the U20 World Cup with Argentina in 2007.
In the 2015/2016 summer transfer window Di Maria moved from Manchester United to Ligue 1 team PSG for around 63 million euros. Fast-forward to present day and he is in his 5th season in the French capital, at 32-years-old, some might wonder whether he his still at the same high level we have become accustomed to.
In this tactical analysis we will be taking a look at Di Maria’s performance this season, addressing his role in the team at various levels of the game, and showing how well he is still able to perform.
Attacking Contribution: Creating and Scoring
PSG like to build their play from the back and, most of the times, do it in one of three configurations: a 2-3-5 shape or a 3-2-5 shape when using a 4-3-3 system or, a 2-2-5-1 shape when using a 4-2-2-2 or 4-4-2 system. Within these configurations Di Maria plays as a RW or RAM, but he mainly occupies the same spaces in both positions. Because PSG let the full-backs provide the width, their wingers or attacking midfielders, depending on the system, occupy more central zones when the team is in the build-up phase. Despite this, Di Maria also tries to receive the ball in wide areas so he can come inside onto his left foot. We can clearly see the positions occupied by the Argentinean in his heat map for this season shown below.
Di Maria averaged 3.96 deep completions (per 90min) this season coming 2nd amongst all Ligue 1 players and only losing to Neymar in this chapter. Deep completions are passes received (excluding crosses) in a 20 metre radius from the opposition’s goal line. This data shows us how the Argentine is able to get himself into good positions to create danger for the opposition, but how much his he able to produce from there ?
In the graphic below we can see how Di Maria compares to other players in his position from Europe’s top 5 leagues who have played more than 1000 minutes this season. Deep completions and chances created per 90 were plotted on both axis, while the colour of the dots represents goals scored and the size of the dots correlates to the shots per 90 min. This allows us to have a picture of how frequently players are able to get in dangerous positions and how many chances they create or finish from there.
An analysis of the graphic shows us that Di Maria produces a lot of chances for his teammates, 2.56 per 90 min to be exact, putting him above all other players in his position in Europe’s top 5 leagues. Di Maria also displays good numbers with 8 goals scored and an average of 3.15 shots per 90 min, putting him in a good position compared to other wingers.
Now that we know how much Di Maria is producing, let’s take a look at how he does it as that is one of the main purposes of this scout report.
Assist king, serving Mbappé on a platter
Everyone knows of Di Maria’s technical ability, from dribbling to passing and let’s not forget his shooting or crossing. His technical execution is usually on point, but it’s not his only strength. Di Maria has a lot of experience in top flight football and that experience has turned him into a very intelligent player when it comes to reading the game and decision making and, because of that, into a very dangerous player for his opponents. This season his decision making has been great and that is clealry demonstrated in the amount of chances he has created.
When PSG have the ball, Di Maria positions himself in between the opposition’s defensive and midfield lines in order to receive the ball. He either starts in a wider position, and drifts inside if there is space or his starting position is already more central. Depending on the team’s tactics and formation, as well as normal game occurrences, the position of PSG’s full-backs will vary between a more central one so they can receive a pass and help build up play, or a wider one in case the team is able to get the ball to the midfielders. This influences the space Di Maria occupies and his starting position as well. In the image below we can see an example of Di Maria positioning himself to receive the ball in between the lines.
When Di Maria receives the ball in between the lines he always does it on the half-turn so he can face the opposition’s defensive line. From there, and with the quality he has, he can hurt the opposition in many different ways: play a through pass, combine with his teammates, take on an opponent or shoot with his amazing left foot. If he receives the ball in wider areas he can also produce chances for his teammates by utilising his crossing ability. In fact, he averaged 4.39 crosses per 90 this season in Ligue 1, ranking 6th in the league.
Many times this season, when getting into these positions, he has played through passes for the runs in behind made by his teammates- putting them into privileged positions to score. Di Maria averaged 4.45 through passes (per 90min) and 2.94 key passes (per 90 min) this season in Ligue 1, these are very high numbers compared to other players in the league. Moreover, he averages 8.35 passes into the penalty area (per 90 min) showing how incisive and purposeful he is with his passing. This data also shows the evolution on the type of player Di Maria is: he started as an explosive winger who either cut inside or delivered crosses. Whereas now, he is an advanced playmaker who is prolific and effective in proving that last key pass.
In the image below we can see one of these situations. Di Maria has received the ball in a central area and plays a through ball to Kylian Mbappé, creating a very dangerous situation.
The scenario seen in the picture has been a common one this season. Di Maria has delivered 20 shot assists and 8 assists for Kylian Mbappé this season, playing a big role in the outstanding 18 goals scored by the Frenchman in the league. Other stats besides assists and goals also confirm that, Di Maria is the player with the most passes to the penalty area in Ligue 1 this season. While Mbappé is the player with the most touches in the penalty area, the pair form a fruitful partnership that provides PSG with the best scorer and the best provider in the league.
Ángel Di Maria has been very good at creating chances, but he is just as good at converting chances himself and his 8 league goals this season can vouch for that. Playing mostly on the right side, and being left footed, he often drifts inside to find space to shoot. With his amazing dribbling skills, Di Maria is able to get past opponents in 1v1 situations with some ease and find that space to take the shot. The stats can vouch for him on this too, this season in Ligue 1 he averaged 7.54 dribbles per 90 min with a very good 45.2% completion rate. But he doesn’t only score from individual plays, Di Maria’s movement off the ball is very clever – when he sees space in behind the opposition’s defensive line he will make a run to try to exploit it. Playing as a winger he is also required to attack crosses inside the box, especially at the far post, and he does this very well. If we look at the stats we find that Di Maria averages 1.66 deep completed crosses per 90min, these are crosses received in a 20 metre radius of the opposition’s goal line.
Because of his experience and shooting abilities, Di Maria is able to keep his cool in front of the goalkeeper and choose the right type of finish depending on the angle and distance from goal.
In the image below we can see Di Maria in a 1v1 situation after receiving a through pass to the space in behind the defence. He then produces a class finish and scores the goal effortlessly.
Attacking transition: Driving the counter-attack forward
When PSG win the ball back they try and counter-attack to capitalise on their fast attackers. Di Maria plays a pivotal role in PSG’s counter-attack manoeuvre as he is often the one starting it. He always tries to position himself so that he is a viable passing option for PSG to start their counter-attack and when he receives the ball he either drives it forward himself or tries to pass it to a teammate so that the team progresses. Di Maria’s dribbling technique is particularly useful in counter-attacks as it allows him to progress with the ball at his feet while taking on opponents in 1v1 situations if needed. His balance and agility are also very important as the Argentine is not as fast and explosive as he once was.
All this characteristics combined allow Di Maria to bypass the opposition’s attempt to counter-press and, once that first press is surpassed, the path is opened for the counter-attack and PSG have very dangerous weapons to exploit the space in transitions.
In the image below we can see a counter-attacking situation where Di Maria has recognised the space left open by Marseille and makes himself a passing option for Verratti, allowing PSG to start a very dangerous counter-attack.
PSG’s defensive shape is a 4-4-2 most of the times and they press the opposition right from the beginning of their build-up play. PSG use a man-to-man approach when pressing the first line of the opposition’s build-up shape, this means that the 4-4-2 shape might turn into a 4-3-3 if the opposition has three players in their forward line for example. Di Maria is sometimes involved in this first high pressing process, mostly when PSG play in a 4-3-3 and they only have one striker, but other times he is tasked with covering the right wing to maintain the shape and cover the passing lane to the opposition’s full-back.
In the image below we can see an example of PSG’s 4-4-2 defensive shape and Di Maria pressing in the first line alongside Mauro Icardi.
The defensive side of the game, alongside with the defensive transition, is the main weakness that can be attributed to Di Maria. He is capable of covering passing lanes and maintaining his position fairly well but lacks intensity when pressing and tracking back in transitions. In terms of stats, the Argentine averages 3.19 ball recoveries per 90 min and if we look at the map below we have a nice picture of Di Maria’s ball recoveries distribution on the pitch.
Of the total 101 ball recoveries Di Maria managed this season, 59 were made in the final third, 28 in the central third, and 24 in his own third. When we look at the type of interceptions we find that 58 of the 101 were a product of counter-pressing which is consistent with how PSG react to losing the ball.
When PSG loose the ball, like it was mentioned above, they try and win it back as fast and as high up the pitch as possible. Being most of the times involved in the team’s attacking manoeuvre in the final third, Di Maria is very often one of the players that is closest to the ball and, therefore, who applies the counter-press.
In the image below we can see PSG, and Di Maria in particular, counter-pressing after losing possession in the Champions League game against Borussia Dortmund. The players closer to the ball react immediately and try to win possession as fast as possible.
When the counter-press is not effective PSG are forced to fall back and regroup into shape so that they are not caught exposed to counter-attacks. This is the situation where sometimes Di Maria can fall short on his duty as he either fails to track back or does it slowly and, as such, the team becomes unbalanced and can lacks compactness. This situation hasn’t caused PSG too much trouble as they are successful in their counter-pressing actions most of the times and, even in the times when they’re not, the quality they have in their midfielders and defenders allows them to successfully deal with most threats.
Di Maria has been playing top-flight football for more than a decade now and has had is fair share of injuries, particularly muscular ones. According to transfermarkt his most recurring injuries have been torn muscles and hamstring problems. A torn muscle bundle had him stop for 17 days in November 2011 only to return later that season forcing Di Maria to a 28 day stop in February of 2012. His longest stop so far was due to an hamstring problem in the 2015/2016 season that forced the Argentine to a 53 day stop. This same injury has already affected him five times throughout his career with the most recent one being in the 2018/2019 season and leading to a 32 day stop.
This scout report has shown how Ángel Di Maria was key to PSG this season, particularly in the attacking phase, contributing to the creation of many of their goals while scoring quite a few himself. He finished as Ligue 1 top assist provider and came 4th in terms of goals scored showing just how important he is to the team’s attacking output.
Di Maria, despite already being 32 and not having the same speed and explosion he had before, still maintains a physical level good enough to play for a big team like PSG and compete amongst the best. This analysis has shown how the Argentine evolved into a more intelligent player, who searches for the right spaces where he can make use of his technique and vision to create chances for his teammates, or to score himself.
How many more years will Di Maria be able to compete at such a high level and with such good performances? No one truly knows the answer to this question, but the new role he has taken at PSG seems to be a perfect fit for him and minimise the effects of ageing and a decrease in speed.