Di Maria, Mata failing to live up to price tags at United

AP , Monday 2 Mar 2015

Angel Di Maria
Manchester United's Angel Di Maria looks dejected (Photo: Reuters)

Juan Mata and Angel Di Maria are the two most expensive players in Manchester United's history, costing a combined 97 million pounds ($150 million) last year as the club looked to regain its status as England's top team.

So far, they aren't living up to their price tags - and there's a chance neither will be in United's lineup when the team visits Newcastle in the Premier League on Wednesday.

Mata, bought for 37.1 million pounds ($57 million) by David Moyes, has mainly been used as a substitute by new manager Louis van Gaal this season despite a decent scoring record when he has started for United. A World Cup and European Championship winner with Spain and twice Chelsea's player of the year, the playmaker is a forgotten man at Old Trafford these days.

Di Maria took over from Mata as United's costliest player when he was signed from Real Madrid for 59.7 million pounds ($92 million), but his form has dipped after an encouraging start.

Van Gaal hasn't found the best position for the Argentina midfielder, who admitted before the 2-0 win over Sunderland on Saturday that he was still in the ''settling-in process'' in English football. Di Maria was poor by his high standards against Sunderland and was substituted at halftime - quite a fall from grace for a player who was man of the match in last season's Champions League final.

''I cannot deny what I see and we have to give Angel a little bit more time to adapt to the Premier League,'' Van Gaal said. ''The rhythm of the game is so high here, much higher than in other countries. He has to adapt to the culture and we have to give him time to adapt and also to lift his confidence again.''

With Adnan Januzaj impressing as Di Maria's replacement against Sunderland, the Argentine may even find himself on the bench at Newcastle as Man United looks to keep its place in the Champions League qualification places.

United's fight with Arsenal and Liverpool for third and fourth place looks set to go to the wire this season, with the three clubs separated by two points. It could be more exciting than the title race, as Chelsea has a five-point lead - and a game in hand - over second-place Manchester City heading into the full midweek program in the league.

Here are some thing to know about the midweek round of games:

Chelsea double

Chelsea returns to league action at West Ham on Wednesday after picking up the first of a possible three trophies this season by beating Tottenham in the League Cup final on Sunday.

That was the first piece of silverware won in Jose Mourinho's second spell at the club - just as winning the League Cup in 2005 kicked off a trophy-laden era in his first stint at Stamford Bridge from 2004-07.

Mourinho captured the Premier League-League Cup in 2005 and the same double could be achieved again 10 years later. Man City's 2-1 loss at Liverpool on Sunday left Chelsea as a huge favorite for the league title.

West Ham away is one of the hardest games left on Chelsea's schedule and the leaders will be without defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic, who will be serving the second game of a two-match ban.

Pressure on Pellegrini

After losses to Barcelona in the Champions League and Liverpool in the Premier League in the past five days, Man City is facing a trophyless season. And that could spell trouble for manager Manuel Pellegrini.

City seems to have regressed since last season, when Pellegrini won the double in his first year in charge and his team played with great attacking intent. Indeed, the defeat at Anfield leaves City open to being caught by United and resurgent pair Arsenal and Liverpool behind them. Third-place Arsenal is four points off City with 11 games left.

City was outfought by Liverpool in a game it really needed to win and looks like a team that needs freshening up. The club's owners must decide if that applies to Pellegrini as well.

''I am concerned about the whole team,'' Pellegrini said after the Liverpool game.

A win against Leicester on Wednesday is a necessity if City is to stay in the title hunt.

Classy Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho is showing just why Barcelona forward Neymar recently said his compatriot is on course to become the star player in English football.

The playmaker has scored three long-range goals over the past month, the latest coming on Sunday when he curled home a late winner against City. His overall performances have been outstanding, too, inspiring a resurgent Liverpool to fifth in the standings after its slow first half of the season.

''His technique is a real, real high level, so he's going to score more goals,'' Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said of Coutinho. ''He's playing at a football club that adores him.''

Liverpool is the form team in the league, unbeaten since mid-December going into Wednesday's home match against Burnley.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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