MANCHESTER — 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.
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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.For the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page.