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Di Maria kickstarts Van Gaal era as swagger returns to Old Trafford

You can’t put a price on how pace, direct running and committing defenders can transform a side. Real Madrid chose to when it came to Angel Di Maria, and their loss is very much Manchester United’s gain, for his performance against QPR was a sublime illustration of those abilities.

It’s important to get the unavoidable caveat out of the way; QPR were dreadful at Old Trafford. Harry Redknapp set out his formation to contain and frustrate, but his team was 3-0 down at half-time, which suggests he is fundamentally incapable of making a team difficult to beat.

They were an abomination, but United have been sterile against equally poor outfits in Sunderland and Burnley, and both of those performances were a far cry from the confident and ruthless nature of this display.

At the heart of everything was Di Maria. United’s attacking options these days distinctly lack an injection of pure pace; Juan Mata, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, for various reasons, aren’t going to run at defenders with any kind of regularity.

Enter Angel of the north. A tangible gasp of anticipation accompanied his possession of the football, irrespective of where he was on the pitch. A cheeky backheel at the edge of his own area was met with rapturous applause from an audience that have been starved of this kind of impudence and ingenuity arguably since Cristiano Ronaldo departed in 2009.