Angel Di Maria has been a revelation this season and arguably the best player for Real Madrid after Casillas and Ronaldo. Even though Di Maria was bought for 35 million Euros, just before the 2010 FIFA World Cup, he was never supposed to make it so big, so quick. In fact, after a very average showing in the World Cup, Real Madrid fans all over the world were wondering whether it was mistake to pay so much for a relatively unproven player. Now it seems that they need not have worried. After an above average season in his first year, Di Maria has burst into life this season. Midway through this season, he has already surpassed all the statistics that he racked up last season – 4 goals and 13 assists in La Liga alone.Ai??However, even more than the statistics, it is the way he has evolved that is truly amazing and heartening for a Los Blancos’ fan.

There have been several instances of players, having a remarkable first season in Madrid only to fizzle out and fade away later. Names like Sneijder, Van der Vaart and Baptista come to mind when it comes to big name underperformers. But Di Mariaai??i??s improvement since his Benfica days has been consistently on an upward gradient and if anything, has become even steeper in Casa Blanca. It shows the learning curve of a player, who is maturing and honing his abilities, than just being flash in a pan or having just a one off good season.

Mourinho And His Distrust Of Flair

What makes it even more interesting is the fact that he is working under Mourinho.Ai??The latter,Ai??traditionally has not done well with flair players and in particular wingers. Chelsea had no winger except for Robben. Wright-Philips was at best a fringe player. Even at Inter, some of the big name flops include wingers Ricardo Quaresma and Mancini. Mourinho has some very fixed ideas of what a player and more specifically a winger should do for the team. He should attack as well as track back to help out in defence, especially the wing backs. It is not a job for the faint hearted.

At best there wereAi??two orAi??three players with a creative bent of mindAi??in his teams and Mourinho filled the other places with solid dependable players, who were good at following orders.

Di Maria curiously is both a winger and a flair player. For a lad of just 23, he has done so well that he has become one of Jose Mourinhoai??i??s favourites, ahead of Ozil and Kaka.

No one can sum up his traits and evolution better in a few lines than Mourinhoai??i??s own words –

When he came to Spain, no one knew why he signed for Real Madrid,” Mourinho told reporters after the match. “He played for Benefica in the Champions League but did not stand out, while he didn’t have a very good World Cup, but I knew he could offer traits that I like. He is humble, always evolving and believes the team is above everything else. I like his simplistic approach and character.

Some Number Crunching

Nothing can illustrate the truth of above observations than some good and solid numbers.

One of the most interesting things is how Di Maria has started to perform away from the cozy confines of Santiago Bernabeu. Thatai??i??s why the away stats are shown separately for the reader to have a better idea.

Ai??(In all the tables the first row shows the season total and the second line shows the away statistics.)

Offensive Statistics

2010-11

AppsGAAi?? SpGKPDrbFOffDis

29(6)

6

11

2.1

2

1.9

1.9

0.4

1.7

14(3)

3

3

1.9

1.5

1.1

2

0.4

1.5

2011-12

Apps

G

A

SpG

KP

Drb

F

Off

Dis

12(2)

4

13

2.3

2.3

1.4

1.8

0.1

2

6(1)

2

6

2.9

1.9

1.1

1.7

2.1

Apps: Appearances; G: Total goals; A: Total assists; SpG: Shots per game; KP: Key passes per game; Drb: Dribbles per game; F: Fouls won per game; Off: Offsides won per game; Dis: Dispossessed per game

Di Maria has been evolving as an attacker and the numbers clearly show that.

Some of the points that emerge from the offensive statistics and their implications are as follows:

1. In away games, shots per game have gone up from 1.9 to 2.9.

Implications:

a. A player, who is less hesitant to shoot

b. A player, who is more confident of is abilities and who believes he can score

2. Key passes per game have gone up from 2 to 2.3 and dribbles have gone done down from 1.9 to 1.4. Conversely, he is also dispossessed a lot more, going up from 1.7 to 2 per game.

Implications

a. The increase in key passes show that the player is able to read game better and has a better understanding with and of his teammates.

b. Number of dribbles have gone down. This meansAi??that Di Maria holds the ball for lesser amount of time and either shoots or passes the ball.

c. The above two characteristics will naturally result in losing the ball more often at an individual level, as Di Maria will tend to be more action oriented and the statistics areAi??in complianceAi??with that.

3. His contribution per game (Assists + Goals) has gone up to 1.4 in 2011-12 from 0.56 in 2010-11.

Implications

a. This again is a by-product of point number 2, wherein a greater willingness to pass and shoot than dribble should result in a betterAi??sum of end product.

4. Another interesting statistic is the number of fouls suffered by Di Maria. Despite the other improvements in the aspects of his game, he suffers roughly the same number of fouls as before. Although, this number can be largely attributed to his skills on the ball, a fair part does seem to come from the the ai???other footballing aspectsai???

Angel Di Maria: Pacy, skillful and evasive

Defensive Statistics

2010-11

Apps

Tackle

I

F

OW

Clr

Drb

BS

OG

29(6)

1.3

1

1

0.1

0.7

14(3)

1.5

0.9

0.8

0.1

0.2

0.8

2011-12

Apps

Tackle

I

F

OW

Clr

Drb

BS

OG

12(2)

1.8

1.2

0.8

1

0.1

6(1)

1.4

1.4

0.7

0.9

0.1

Apps: Appearances; Tackle: Tackles per game; I: Interceptions per game; F: Fouls per game; OW: Offsides won per game; Clr: Clearances per game; Drb: Dribbles per game; BS: Blocked shots per game

When it comes to defensive duties, Cristiano Ronaldo is afforded more freedom in that respect than any player ever had under Mourinho and the rest of the team have to make up for this. This means if Di Maria does not help out in defence, then there will be serious problems for the team. This is why the defensive duties undertaken by Di Maria are crucial for the teamai??i??s success.

As the stats show that his tackles per game have gone up by 40% from 1.3 to 1.8 per game and his interceptions per game in the away games have seen a jump of almost 55% – from 0.9 to 1.4.

Even more importantly, he has been conceding lesser number of fouls. This statistic is down by 30% overall from 1 to 0.7. Although he has conceded more fouls in away games this year, it is can be attributed to more pressing from Mourinhoai??i??s men and partially due to his over- enthusiastic nature.

All in all, this points to a very healthy tendency of conceding less fouls, making more tackles and interceptions and this helps shutting out a lot of attacks from one wing and thus makes the life of the right backAi??easier.

Passing Statistics

2010-11

Apps

A

KP

Avg P

PS%

C

LB

TB

29(6)

11

2

29.2

75.8

0.9

2.1

0.9

14(3)

3

1.5

27.9

73.4

0.9

1.9

0.6

2011-12

Apps

A

KP

Avg P

PS%

C

LB

TB

12(2)

13

2.3

32

75.7

1

2.4

0.9

6(1)

6

1.9

35.1

72.4

0.7

2.3

1

Apps: Appearances; A: Assists; KP: Key Passes per game; Avg P: Average Passes per game;Ai?? PS%: Average Passing percentage per game; C: Accurate Crosses per game;Ai?? LB: Accurate Long Balls per game; TB: Accurate Through balls per game

1. Number of accurate long balls per game and accurate through balls per game have gone up significantly, especially in the away games. Also the number of passes per game have gone up significantly from 28 to 35 – a 25% increase.

2. The number of crosses per game have remained the same. This may or may not be a weakness as the style of giving the ball to the teammate depends, to a very large extent, on the playing style of the team.

Club

Total

Apps

Goals

Assists

Rosario Central

39

6

0

Benefica

123

15

26

Real Madrid

73

14

33

Career total

235

35

59

Overall Conclusion Of Stats

This line sums it up all. How and why Di Maria has been so successful in improving year after year?

ai???Every year, you grow in all ways ai??i?? in a football sense, in a mental sense. And the older you get, the better you understand football; the better you know it. You come to learn things that you did not know before and Iai??i??m still trying to evolve now. For example, Iai??i??m trying to improve my positional play: when to pressure and when to back off, when to open up the pitch, when to close it. As an attacker, you canai??i??t just be happy to beat players. You want to make an all-round contribution to the team.ai???

Big Stage Player

Di Maria was an integral part of the Argentina side that won the Under-20 World Cup in Canada in 2007. He chipped in with three goalsAi??in the tournament, although the centre stage belonged to his team-mate,Ai??a certainAi??Sergio Aguero, who top scored with six goals.

Di Maria also scored the winner in the 2008 Olympics with a sublime chip over the goalkeeper, who could only stare helplessly as the ball flew over him into the net. It was so perfect that it flew in the net despite being shot from outside the box.

He had also provided the cross that helped Real Madrid and Mourinho reduce the stranglehold that Barcelona have over current Los Blancos side and win the Copa del after several years.

Even when Real Madrid were reduced to ten men against a stubborn Sevilla side at Sanchez Pizjuan, Di Mariaai??i??s solitary strike was the difference between theAi??two teams.

In fact, along with Iker Casillas and Benzema, he was one of the few players to emerge with some sort of credit after the demoralising 3-1 loss against Barcelona inAi??December 2011.

Not Everything Is Rosy

Di Maria is very skinny and is called the ‘El Fideo‘ or ‘The Noodle’ by the Spanish fans. Sometimes it would seem credible that a player as fast and skilful as Di Maria would get fouled often. Combine it with his skinny frame and it seems likely for a player to suffer a lot of fouls.

But make no mistake, Di Maria has a very huge tendency to dive and go downAi??after the slightest of touches. This might give him a reputation for being a diver and a cheat in his early career days, which once labelled, is very difficult to shake off. He can learn about this in detail from Cristiano Ronaldo, asAi??the PortugueseAi??is still seen as a diver, despite improving a lot on this aspect. What makes it doubly frustrating is that Real Madrid lose their rhythm whenever such aAi??false foul is awarded. The fouls break up the play and more often than not end up harming the Spanish giants rather than benefitting them.

Fly my little ‘Angel’ fly and with it flies your reputation

In an otherwise a perfectly good player, this is the onlyAi??flaw and if Di Maria works on this, he can truly be a legend at the Casa Blanca. For a Real Madrid fan, it will be great to see Di Maria become the perfect player and for a player, who believes in continuous evolution, this will be the ultimate and the greatest evolutionary step.

(All numbers and statistics have been sourced from www.whoscored.com.Ai??TheHardTackle isAi??extremely grateful for their permission to use their wonderful data.)

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6 Responses to “Real Madridai??i??s Guardian Angel – Angel Di Maria’s Evolution In Numbers”

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  1. John says:

    I agree that Di Maria is a great player but somewhat overrated in your article. Let’s not forget that he’s playing for Real Madrid & his teammates that are surrounding him are world class players. When he loses a ball on the dribble(which happens pretty often in his case), his teammates win back the ball quickly to give him an opportunity again & again. Against the stronger teams his opportunities are less & less.

  2. John says:

    Overrated. Benzema & Higuain are far better players

  3. Aditya Sharma says:

    Lol I love the caption on that last photo :)
    Nice analysis, but I feel you might be reading too much into some of the statistics.
    People call him overrated, and personally I have not observed his game closely enough to make a judgement; but I feel that in a team like Real, with their humongous squad and deep pockets, if any player is hanging on to his place in the team on a regular basis, there has to be some solid talent in him for sure. Otherwise it would be him on the bench, and not Kaka and Higuain.

  4. madridista KSS says:

    @john….same can be said for his fellow-argentinian messi then??? am i rite?? he also performs only wid barca…does dat mean he aint dat good??

  5. prakhar says:

    I don’t mean to rate him on the basis of purely what I personally feel or see. The numbers support my facts.
    @Aditya Sharma. One couldn’t have put it more succinctly or accurately about being a Real MAdrid regular needs something special.
    @madridista KSS yeah, if one writes about praising Messi then it is ok. But Di Maria is over-rated. Double standards, I’d say.