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FALLEN AN­GEL: Di Maria’s strug­gle for form at Old Traf­ford have prompted Van Gaal to de­clare he still needs time to set­tle LOUIS VAN GAAL has leapt to the de­fence of record buy An­gel Di Maria af­ter haul­ing him off at half-time.

Di Maria is strug­gling to live up to his billing as Bri­tish foot­ball’s most ex­pen­sive im­port af­ter Manch­ester United splashed out £59.7mil­lion to sign him from Real Madrid last sum­mer.

Af­ter a bright start to his Old Traf­ford ca­reer, the Ar­gentina in­ter­na­tional has strug­gled for form in re­cent weeks.

He hit rock bot­tom when get­ting the hook in United’s laboured 2-0 win over Sun­der­land on Satur­day.

But Red Devils boss Van Gaal in­sists Di Maria still needs to time to find his feet.

And he is back­ing the 27-year-old, who wasn’t helped to set­tle by an at­tempted bur­glary at his Cheshire home in Jan­uary, to come good.

Van Gaal said: “I think it counts for all the play­ers that we have bought, the first sea­son is al­ways dif­fi­cult.

“You can see it for ev­ery player we have bought – Shaw, Blind, Her­rera, Fal­cao and also Di Maria.

“For me, it is not a big sur­prise. It is more a big sur­prise when he adapted as quickly as pos­si­ble.

“In Hol­land, Spain and Ger­many I had the same ex­pe­ri­ence with play­ers.

“We have to give him time, not just Di Maria but all the play­ers. We wait and see.”

United haven’t ex­actly helped their new re­cruits by fail­ing to gel as a squad.

De­spite that, they have man­aged to force their way into the top four and hang on to a Cham­pi­ons League spot ahead of tonight’s trip to New­cas­tle.

But the chas­ing pack is snap­ping at their heels ready to pounce on any slip-ups.

And Van Gaal ad­mits he shares Ar­se­nal manager Arsene Wenger’s view that the race for a top-four fin­ish will go to the wire.

The Dutch­man added: “He is more ex­pe­ri­enced in the Pre­mier League, so I want to be­lieve him.

“But it is go­ing to the last week, I know that also. I have said that al­ready. It’s a rat race.” Striker Robin van Per­sie misses out with an an­kle in­jury, but Michael Car­rick could face his home­town club af­ter mak­ing it onto the bench last week­end fol­low­ing an­other lengthy ab­sence with a calf in­jury.

Moussa Sis­soko reck­ons New­cas­tle will bring an end to their slog on the Tyne against Man United, who have lost just once in their last 11 vis­its to St James’ Park.

Van Gaal’s side tasted de­feat last time out on the road – 2-1 at Swansea – and Sis­soko is con­fi­dent Toon can make it more away-day mis­ery for the Red Devils.

The France mid­fielder (above) said: “At home we can beat any­body and, if we play like we know we can, then we can trou­ble any side.”

Jack Col­back serves the sec­ond of a two-match ban, but de­fender Mas­sa­dio Haidara hopes to be avail­able de­spite be­ing car­ried off with a knee in­jury in Satur­day’s 1-0 win over As­ton Villa.

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