It’s still early-goings, but Angel Di Maria is proving to be a real superstar. Overshadowed by the likes of Ronaldo and Bale at Real Madrid, he has become the center of attention since moving to Old Trafford and has flourished under the circumstances, contributing 3 goals and 3 assists in 5 matches. He took his goal well against Everton with his weaker foot and, whether he meant to or not, helped Radamel Falcao open his Manchester United account by supplying him with the match winner. He has a tendency to over-hit crosses and could be more disciplined when in possession of the ball in his team’s half, but that’s nitpicking.
With the likes of Rooney, Van Persie, Mata and Falcao all stuttering with inconsistent early-season form, Di Maria has hauled United into the top 4 for the first time in over a year. Expect to see United’s new #7 continue his rich vein of form.
Rafael actually turned in an all-around solid performance against Everton on Sunday. Usually only a rash tackle away from an early bath, Rafael turned in a mature display. He looked composed on and off of the ball and seemed to be more in control than his usual, reckless self (and Luke Shaw for that matter, who conceded a 1st half penalty after switching off). He’ll probably need to string together a few more of those outings to save his position as the undisputed starting right back under Louis van Gaal, as Brazilian compatriot Dani Alves openly contemplates a move to English shores (and one last payday from a club that has shown no qualms about getting its checkbook out).
Paddy McNair might be the real deal. Thrown into the fire last weekend against West Ham as an emergency debutant, McNair turned his first senior outing into an audition and received a callback against Everton. The 19-year-old Northern Irishman rarely put a foot wrong all game, keeping Romelu Lukaku quiet and exuding remarkable calmness with the ball at his feet – surprisingly more so than his £16 million partner at the back, Marcos Rojo – that defies his age. His positioning and ability to read the game could use some work and he might not be physically ready to handle the pounding of the EPL every week (translation: hit the weight room, kid), but he’s not a bad short-term solution against the middling and lower table clubs and his emergence has turned a defensive crisis at Manchester United into a seemingly less dire situation.
Juan Mata set up Di Maria’s goal against Everton with a finely weighted pass, but added very little to the game and was hugely disappointing in his recall to the starting lineup. Mata always looked comfortable in possession, but he also appeared gun shy after passing up several opportunities to shoot and never really posed much of a threat to the opposition with his passing. Luckily for Juan, none of United’s forwards have appeared very sharp in front of goal, but he is still the odd man out in the attacking triumvirate. With Wayne Rooney out for the next two games, Mata will need to perform much better after the international break, if he wants to give Van Gaal something to think about. He’s entirely capable of defying the critics who say that he slows down United’s attack, but he needs to impose his will on matches and pull the trigger when in shooting positions.
David De Gea probably delivered the Premier League’s finest goalkeeping performance so far this season against Everton. De Gea was in impeccable form, becoming the first EPL goalkeeper to deny Leighton Baines from the spot before making a succession of impressive stops on Leon Osman and Bryan Oviedo late in the 2nd half to preserve 3 points for United. Watching the Spaniard return to top form was a welcome sight for all as he has admittedly looked shaky between the posts this term. He also upstaged former United keeper Tim Howard, who has also been lacking in form since his heroic display for the U.S. against Belgium at the World Cup.