By Iain Rogers
MADRID (Reuters) - Real Madrid forward Angel Di Maria will almost certainly lose his place in the starting lineup to world record signing Gareth Bale when the Wales winger is back from injury but he is not going down without a fight.
The Argentina international with the lethal left foot scored twice in Wednesday's 4-0 Champions League rout of FC Copenhagen and set up Cristiano Ronaldo for the second of his double with an eye-catching piece of skill.
Known as "fideo" (noodle), the whippet-like Di Maria has won over Real's demanding fans with his energy and commitment and was recently cited by coach Carlo Ancelotti as an example for the rest of the squad to follow.
Despite all that, Italian Ancelotti will have no choice but to relegate Di Maria, who comes from Lionel Messi's birthplace of Rosario, to the bench when Bale has recovered from a minor thigh strain.
After agreeing to pay Tottenham Hotspur 100 million euros for the Welshman in the close season, Real president Florentino Perez would never allow the world's most expensive player to be left out of the starting formation.
With prolific Portugal forward Ronaldo, Spain playmaker Isco and Perez favourite Karim Benzema, the struggling France striker, also ahead of him in the pecking order, Di Maria is likely to be used as second-half substitute even if his performances merit a regular place in the team.
The 25-year-old's situation has prompted speculation he could leave and several of Real's European rivals, including English Premier League clubs Arsenal and Manchester City, have reportedly considered a bid.
For the time being, Di Maria, who even has the same goal celebration as Bale where he makes a heart shape with his fingers, is doing his best to convince Ancelotti but is almost certainly fighting in vain.
If he does eventually decide to leave, his exit could prompt the same mutterings of discontent among fans that greeted Mesut Ozil's departure to Arsenal on transfer deadline day.
"I am just working the same way as always," Di Maria told reporters after the Copenhagen match.
"I am trying to show the coach that I want to play but the important thing is to keep up the effort," he added.
Di Maria's 'rabona' assist for Ronaldo's second goal, flicking his left leg behind his right and chipping the ball into the centre of the area, was one of the highlights of Wednesday's game and the move has become something of a trademark for the former Benfica player.
Unfortunately for Real fans, it may be another team who benefits from such sublime skills before long.