Birthday boy Angel a reborn hitman

Angel di Maria with his trademark goal celebration. As recently as last month, the player was even benched by his coach Unai Emery.
Angel di Maria with his trademark goal celebration. As recently as last month, the player was even benched by his coach Unai Emery. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • One month ago, Angel di Maria was an outcast on the Paris Saint-Germain substitutes' bench, but the forward was reborn in the Champions League demolition of Barcelona.

Two goals in the 4-0 thrashing of Argentina team-mate Lionel Messi's Barca saw di Maria hit near perfection in a way that he rarely managed at Manchester United or Real Madrid.

Superstar Messi, who did not get a shot on goal, has rarely looked so out of touch.

Di Maria hit a goal in each half on his 29th birthday and each time gave his traditional celebration, forming a heart with his hands. But his heart has not really been in the PSG game this season.

Last month, coach Unai Emery banished the second most expensive import into the French league - €63 million (S$94.65 million) paid to United in 2015 - to the substitutes' bench.

Germany striker Julian Draxler arrived from Wolfsburg and Lucas was playing well.

Being out in the January cold jolted di Maria into action.

Against Bordeaux last Friday, he scored one goal in the 3-0 win that kept PSG in the Ligue 1 title race against Monaco.

Earlier di Maria said that he had problems with the tactics brought in by former Sevilla manager Emery last year.

"Those who know me know that I like to run everywhere, a bit haphazard. He wants every player to take care of his own space and press from that position. It was a problem at the start, but I understood and now I like it," di Maria told Spanish sports daily Marca after the Bordeaux game.

Di Maria forced Lucas out of the starting line-up against Barcelona and received a standing ovation from the Parc des Princes crowd when he left in the 61st minute.

He scored with a curling free kick and a second-half shot, both attempts from outside the penalty area.

He now has nine goals for the season and hopes it will set him up for a spectacular finale.

"It was a very special day. It's impossible to have a better performance and birthday. It was a wonderful display and fully deserved," he told beIN TV after the match.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Birthday boy Angel a reborn hitman'. Print Edition | Subscribe