Manchester United fans must be scratching their heads wondering why Louis van Gaal is allowing Barcelona winger Alexis Sanchez join Arsenal with such little resistance. The 25-year-old is a match winner, after all, with the ability to make the difference in the most important games. In many ways, he looks every inch the perfect summer signing for the Red Devils.
However, United’s decision to hand Antonio Valencia a contract extension was an indication that Van Gaal’s supposed interest in the Chile international was merely speculation. The Dutchman has his eyes on another big-name target: Angel di Maria of Real Madrid.
Manchester United need Di Maria more than Sanchez
It’s no secret that Van Gaal is a huge fan of wingers and loves his sides to play with width. Di Maria, at this moment in time, just might be the best out-and-out winger on the planet.
He would be a significant upgrade on Ashley Young and Nani, who both play wide-left, while Adnan Januzaj is capable of playing either from the right flank or in the hole, meaning the Belgium international could quite easily feature in the same starting line-up as the South American.
Securing the services of a new right-sided winger, like Sanchez, is far less of a priority - particularly if Van Gaal does opt to deploy a Netherlands-style 3-4-3 formation at United next season.
Di Maria v Sanchez: Head-to-head comparison
In truth, there is very little to separate £48 million-rated Di Maria and £32 million-rated Sanchez when analysing their respective qualities. The latter is perhaps a little more clinical in front of goal, but there’s a good chance Sanchez wouldn’t have scored as many goals as he did last season - 21 in all competitions - had he found himself playing in the same team as Cristiano Ronaldo.
Di Maria, on the other hand, consistently provides a remarkable number of assists every year. In four seasons at the Bernabeu, the Argentina international has set up no less than 87 goals.
The 26-year-old is also perhaps a little more versatile than Sanchez. Last season, under Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, he adapted to a more central role with impressive ease. In fact, he went on to enjoy his best campaign since arriving at Real Madrid from Benfica in 2010.
Angel di Maria: World's best winger?
Di Maria loves United?
Sanchez has no emotional connection with the Red Devils and, by all accounts, no real desire to play for the club. But is the situation different with Di Maria?
In an interview published by the News of the World in 2009, the Argentine was quoted as saying that his dream “is to play some day for Manchester United”. Perhaps, given the now defunct newspaper in question, we should take the quotes with a pinch of salt - but it’s difficult for United fans not to get a little excited when they read the rest of his comments prior to his move to the Bernabeu.
“And I won’t stop till I get it,” he added. “When I watch [Wayne] Rooney and all of them on TV, I can’t wait to play there at Old Trafford.
“When I was a little boy I watched Arsenal games as well, but Manchester United always dazzled me most.”
The question is: will Manchester United fans be left dazzled by Di Maria next season? The disappointment of losing out on Sanchez would be softened by the thought of signing the Argentine, who looks perfect to inherit United’s famous number seven shirt.