MANCHESTER, November 18- Manchester United record signing Angel di Maria’s stunning start to his time at Manchester United was the surprise, not the winger’s recent dip in form, Argentina coach Gerardo Martino said Monday.
Di Maria, a 26-year-old Argentina winger, joined from Real Madrid in a £59.7 million ($98 million, 75 million euros) deal on transfer deadline day and scored three goals in his first five games for the English giants.
Tuesday is set to see Di Maria play on his club home ground when Argentina face Portugal in an international friendly at Old Trafford billed as the “Battle of the Galacticos”, with Martino defending his playmaker following recent criticism.
“I have to say that Angel is one of the very top players in world football,” Martino told an Old Trafford news conference on Friday.
“His start was exceptional and the fact that generally when players go to a new club and have to get used to a new league, a new team, a different style of football and different team-mates, I think the form that he is showing now is possibly more typical of a player going to a new club than the very first few games when he burst onto the scene and did so well.
“With regards to his position, I would say that Angel is the type of player who can play a number of different roles expertly. You only have to look a few seasons back when he played on the right side for Real Madrid and in the season just gone, he featured more on the inside-left in a slighter freer role.
“Obviously, in the World Cup (where Argentina lost to Germany in the final), he did very well when he played wide left so really, in terms of positioning, he can adapt to anywhere where the manager asks him to play.”
– Messi and Ronaldo –
The match at Old Trafford sees Argentina’s Lionel Messi go head-to-head with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo as they look to enhance their credentials for the Ballon D’Or, world player of the year award.
The pair have been the winners and runners-up of the trophy in each of the last three years.
“You can’t take out of the deciding process I am Argentinian, my heart lies with Messi,” said Martino.
“I cannot separate sentiment from my objective decision. Whatever season Messi had on footballing grounds, I would still vote for him. Yes I would vote for him on footballing terms. You can’t separate what he is like as a human from what he is as a player.”
But Martino accepted his side must rein in their all-out attacking philosophy at times and that Tuesday’s match provided them with a test in stopping former United favourite Ronaldo.
“We are famous for our attacking style and try and press high up the field which can leave spaces towards the back. What we have to balance out is how we defend as a team,” Martino explained.
“It is not a case of having special individual attention but when you come up against a world-class player, you pay attention as a team. If we closed the space down, that is good.
“When he (Ronaldo) has the ball at his feet and is about to dribble, it is important we don’t leave in space for him to dribble into.”