PSG's Angel Di Maria struggling without Zlatan Ibrahimovic
ABS-CBN Sports on Oct 28, 2016 09:58 AM
Basel's Taulant Xhaka, left, challenges for the ball with PSG's Angel Di Maria during the Champions League group A soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Basel at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer
PARIS (AP) — Since Zlatan Ibrahimovic left Paris Saint-Germain, the sparkle has gone from Angel Di Maria's play.
The Argentina winger is a pale imitation of the player he was last season, when he enjoyed the best season of his career in terms of goals and was by far the best passer in the French league.
This year, Di Maria has failed to score in nine league games and has only set up three goals — considerably below his ratio from last season.
Di Maria then scored 10 goals in the league and set up 18, with eight of them for Ibrahimovic, who is now playing for Manchester United.
Both players enjoyed career highs in goals, with Ibrahimovic scoring a whopping 38 in 29 games.
The imposingly strong Ibrahimovic's ability to hold the ball up gave the fleet-footed Di Maria an ideal foil to play off — and they combined superbly.
When Ibrahimovic dropped deep, he would often lay the ball off to Di Maria, who would speed down the flanks.
When Ibrahimovic played further forward, Di Maria made darting runs from the wing and cut inside, often swapping passes with Ibrahimovic before going through on goal.
Edinson Cavani has replaced Ibrahimovic as the spearhead of PSG's attack, but he is much more of a roaming player, often drifting to the right flank to find space.
That makes it harder for Di Maria to pick out Cavani, and only one of his league-high nine goals so far has been set up by the Argentine. All the other assists are from fullbacks.
Di Maria's only goal this season was against FC Basel in the Champions League last week — a close-range finish when the ball fell kindly to him — and it ended a barren run of 17 games for club and country without a goal.
It did little for his confidence, though, as he was against way below his best in PSG's scoreless draw against Marseille on Sunday. Several of his passes went astray and he was jeered by the crowd at Parc des Princes.
The 28-year-old Di Maria should be entering his peak years as a player, but he looks short on confidence and the instinctive side of his game seems to be suffering as a consequence.
He is not dribbling with anything like the panache of last season, where his inspired flicks and touches helped to speed the game up.
He has had other poor games, notably against Ludogrets in the Champions League, and against Toulouse and Bordeaux in the French league.
But coach Unai Emery, who replaced Laurent Blanc this season, still backs him, hoping he'll break through as soon as PSG's match at Lille on Friday.
"He's an important player for us. I'm going to give him confidence, help him to improve so he can play the way we would like," Emery said recently. "He's got a good attitude and keeps working."
Perhaps he's working a bit too hard: Blanc's shorter training sessions were perhaps more suitable for Di Maria, who has looked weary in games.