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From Premier League flop to PSG's most important player - why unsung hero Angel Di Maria could prove the key to unlocking Bayern Munich in Champions League blockbuster
Superstars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe may dominate all the column inches, but Angel Di Maria is quietly proving himself to be PSG's most important player
Angel Di Maria is no stranger to football's biggest stage.
A World Cup and Copa America finalist with Argentina, he is not short of big-game pedigree.
And yet in the days and weeks that have led to Sunday's Champions League final in Lisbon, Di Maria has been cast as third fiddle to the two primary protagonists in PSG's quest for European glory.
So often under-loved and underrated, the 32-year-old is proving the perfect foil to Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, happy to let his more glamorous teammates take the spotlight while he works away under the radar.
It's a role that suits the Argentinian, even if it fails to fully acknowledge his importance.
He's played the part the before. In 2014 he was understudy to Galaticos Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo as Real Madrid prepared to square off against arch-rivals Atletico Madrid.
Yet in the end Di Maria stole the show, producing a man-of-the-match display to help end Real Madrid's long wait for 'La Decima'.
That performance earned him a then Premier League record transfer to Manchester United, arriving with the weight of expectations on his shoulders.
Hopes were high that he could sprinkle some much-needed stardust and help restore United to the heights they had struggled to reach since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement.
"Manchester United is the only club that I would have left Real Madrid for," he said upon signing a five-year deal. But his dream move quickly turned sour.
To British audiences, the wiry playmaker will forever be remembered as a big-money flop after failing to live up to his £60 million price tag.
The Argentine was written off after just 27 appearances in a Red Devils shirt as a combination of injuries and personal problems blighted his time in the Premier League.
In January 2015, just a few months into his new life in England, his Manchester house was raided in a traumatic episode for him and his homesick family.
Criminals were reported to have used scaffolding poles to smash their way into his Cheshire property while he was home along with his wife Jorgelina and baby daughter Mia.
It's one of the reasons, perhaps, why he was so desperate to seal a move away from Manchester, later describing the city as "a s***hole".
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Five years after crossing the Channel for France he once again finds himself preparing to take centre stage for the most prestigious prize in club football.
After missing their unconvincing victory over Atalanta in the last eight due to suspension, the Argentine proved how integral he is to PSG's lauded attack six days later in the semi-finals against RB Leipzig.
Mere mortals would find it hard to stand out when your teammates include generational talents like Mbappé and Neymar, but Di Maria proved the star of the show.
PSG's number 11 was involved in every single goal as the French giants cruised into their first-ever Champions League final by beating Julian Nagelsmann's rookie outfit 3-0.
The opening goal came via a sumptuous Di Maria free-kick delivery, packaged and bow-tied for Marquinhos to head home.
Ten minutes into the second half, it was Di María again with a wicked left-footed cross for full-back Juan Bernat to nod in and kill the tie off.
Di Maria also managed to get on the scoresheet himself, gleefully benefiting from Neymar's deft backheel, but it was his impact as provider that will concern Bayern most ahead of Sunday's Lisbon showdown.
In the semi-finals, Hansi Flick's side comfortably beat Lyon to progress, but Bayern's French opponents had several chances to take the lead in the opening exchanges of the game as they chased the ball high up the pitch, leaving huge space in behind centre-backs Jerome Boateng and David Alaba.
"The way this Bayern team set up, pressing high to win the ball, they leave themselves wide open at the back," BT Sport pundit and 2008 Champions League winner Rio Ferdinand told Gary Lineker.
"We hammered Pep [Guardiola] for changing his tactics against Lyon but now we're asking Flick to change things.
"If Mbappé, Neymar and Di Maria get the chance Lyon got tonight, Bayern will be down 3-0 before they can say boo."
If Bayern stick to their guns and hound the opposition high up the pitch like they did against Barcelona, Di Maria has shown himself to be more than capable of releasing Mbappé and Neymar into space at will.
Affectionately called El Tideo (The Noodle), Di Maria has the vision and technique to dissect any backline in Europe and will punish Flick's in-form Germans if give the chance.
Since his Champions League debut for Benfica back in 2007, only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (32 each) have provided more assists in the competition than Di María (27).
In fact, only Mohamed Salah (18), Gonzalo Higuaín (21) and Patrick Kluivert (25) have scored in more games without defeat in the competition’s history than the Argentine.
In a game featuring so many superstar names, it's no surprise Di Maria is going under the radar, but don't bet against PSG's unsung hero putting in another big-game masterclass on Sunday evening.
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