Angel Di Maria has already scored what may prove Paris Saint-Germain’s most important goal of the season. With seconds remaining against Napoli in a vital Champions League encounter at Parc des Princes, the Argentine took aim from the edge of the box and bent in a brilliant shot that allowed Thomas Tuchel’s men to pinch a 2-2 draw against the Italian side and, therefore, keep their hopes of progress very much alive.
His renaissance, which began towards the end of last term, has been one of the great narratives of PSG’s perfect start to the campaign, and he was rewarded earlier this week with a fresh contract that runs through until 2021, signalling his willingness to potential see out his career in the French capital.
Remarkably, he has outscored both Kylian Mbappe (21) and Neymar (22) for PSG during 2018, having found the target 24 times.
His career has been an unusual one, touching great heights with Real Madrid as he inspired them to the Champions League title in 2014 but then never subsequently living up to that billing at Manchester United or in France.
Indeed, for a long period the odds seemed stacked towards him departing during the summer following a campaign in which he admitted he found it difficult to find a place following the arrival of big-money signings Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
“When you have a lot of attacking players, it’s not always easy to find the right connection,” he said. “It was the first season we played together, and little by little we’ll come to find out optimal arrangement.”
And yet, for all the trouble the Argentine seemed to have, his statistics remained healthy. In 45 appearances in all competitions, he scored 21 goals and fashioned another 12. Head coach Unai Emery never seemed entirely convinced, but he took advantage of Neymar’s injury-enforced absence to earn a spot in the team almost by default.
Tuchel, though, has placed the former Red Devil among his key men this season, in part due to the player’s ability to be decisive in several different roles.
“I like him a lot, he’s a player with a lot of talent,” he said after a 3-0 win over Nice. “I watched him at Real Madrid where he was my favourite player. Now he’s my player, he’s a gift for me. He’s easy to work with because he’s professional and plays for the team.”
The German’s faith has been amply rewarded thus far, with the player admitting that he thrives upon the responsibility installed in him.
“The coach immediately came to speak with me,” Di Maria told Canal+, reflecting on the summer when the former Dortmund boss was appointed. “He made me understand that he counted on me, that I was important to the team. He gave me that little extra motivation for this season.”
Following on from the Napoli draw, Di Maria proved himself critical with the match on the line against Marseille last weekend. It appeared to be drifting towards a barren scoreless draw, but moments after Mbappe was introduced, the South American unleashed the pace of the teenager with an accurate through pass that allowed him to break the deadlock and set PSG up for a 2-0 win.
He may lead the way in goals for PSG this calendar year, but that assist was a fine example of his bread-and-butter work. It was also his sixth Ligue 1 assist in just 819 minutes this term – a league-leading tally.
Little wonder, then, his club were so pleased to hold onto him.
“Angel is in a fantastic moment of his career, in which the combination of his talent and his experience have put him more than ever among the best players in the world,” president Nasser Al-Khalaifi enthused.
With PSG already well clear in the league, it is in Europe where Di Maria will be expected to excel. He has done it before in the Spanish capital, and now he it is hoped he can replicate that in France.