A smile on the face of Louis van Gaal isn't the most attractive of things you're ever likely to see, but at Old Trafford yesterday it was a particularly welcome sight. The Dutchman has been largely unmoved on the touchline during his short-but-eventful time in charge at Manchester United, regardless of events on the pitch.
He has tended to stare intently before jotting something down in his notepad. However yesterday was different. The comprehensive 4-0 win over QPR has, temporarily at least, lifted the clouds that were gathering over Old Trafford, and Van Gaal seems content with life. And a large part of that was down to one man - Angel di Maria.
The Argentinian has a large fee to justify but has started off in the right way and Manchester United fans can only hope he continues in the same manner. Before we go any further it's important to acknowledge that QPR were as bad as the Red Devils were good, and that sterner tests lie ahead, but there was enough on display on Sunday to suggest that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
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Di Maria opened the scoring at Old Trafford and had a hand in the three other goals Manchester United put past their inadequate opponents, and by the time he limped off with cramp late in the second half, the home crowd were ready and waiting to pay tribute to their new hero.
Of course there was plenty of talk about Di Maria's fee before his arrival at Manchester United but for almost £60 million, the Red Devils appear to have got themselves a few players wrapped up into one. Indeed, the Argentinian may be one of the hardest players to pigeon-hole in the Premier League.
He's a bit of an enigma. After all, how many out-and-out wingers who are masters at getting to the by-line before whipping the ball into the box can also play in the middle of the pitch and pull off sensational passes like the one to Van Persie in the second half against QPR?
Di Maria could never be labelled a box-to-box type but he puts in a fair shift in defence too, shuttling out wide to offer protection for countryman Marcos Rojo when Manchester United didn't have the ball. He could certainly score a few more but he's no slouch in front of goal. His free-kick delivery certainly looks ok as well.
Against QPR he was put on the left wing but in practice he occupied the inside left channel as a quarter of a new midfield diamond, and there he found pockets of space which he exploited beautifully.
He burst forward from midfield and looked pretty comfortable with the ball at his feet when he drifted infield - not too shabby for a fleet-footed winger in the rough and tumble of the Premier League against two tough-tacklers like Leroy Fer and Sandro.
It was that area of the field that his 'assist' for Juan Mata came from that area of the pitch, while his thrusting run from there ultimately helped set up Ander Herrera.
Just as Van Gaal is lucky to have a player of his calibre, Di Maria is fortunate that the Dutch boss is switched on enough to put him in a position where he can do the most damage - and is willing to mix things up to utilise him best - as he showed he was willing to do at the World Cup.
Against QPR, the 3-5-2 was gone and the midfield diamond was used. It seems to be a partnership made in heaven, and key to whether Manchester United will thrive will be largely down to whether Van Gaal can get Di Maria into positions where he can find space and do damage. Luckily for Van Gaal then, that he has such a versatile, unique player on his hands.
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