Manchester United Future up in the Air for David de Gea

david de gea

At one point David de Gea was recognised as the greatest goalkeeper in the world, which was exemplified by his inclusion in the 2018 FIFA World XI. The same season he earned this status was arguably the greatest individual season for a goalkeeper of all time. However, since then nothing about the Spaniard has looked the same.

Fall From Grace for Dave de Gea

De Gea’s Manchester United Beginning

At the start of De Gea’s Manchester United career, there were major question marks over his ability to be a top goalkeeper in such a physical league. On his most recent Overlap podcast episode, Gary Neville remarks on this, saying at the start of his punditry career he thought the goalkeeper to be too “slight”. He also mentions that in response to this he received a phone call from Sir Alex Ferguson who berated him for his analysis of the goalkeeper.

However, his criticism of De Gea was showcased later in that season in an FA Cup Fourth Round loss against Liverpool at Anfield. The young goalkeeper’s hesitation in collecting a corner led to Daniel Agger heading the ball into an open net. But again, Sir Alex Ferguson came to his defence in the post-match press conference. What Ferguson saw in this young, untested and error-prone goalkeeper was something which most fans could not fathom.

The Rise of a Goalkeeping Great

It was only in the aftermath of the Ferguson era did the potential of David de Gea become a reality. Game after game the Spaniard would produce saves the mind could not comprehend, saving United an untold number of times. In the January of 2017/18 Premier League season De Gea had prevented a total of 13.8 xG (expected goals) which was nearly double that of the next closet goalkeeper.

The recognition from supporters of the club was clear as he won Manchester United Player of the Year accolades back-to-back. More impressively although, was the respect given to him by his teammates who continually voted him Manchester United Player’s Player – a reward that is usually given to outfield players.

What made De Gea’s shot-stopping ability so profound was his utilisation of his feet for saving lower more powerful efforts. Whilst it is a trait not as rare with modern goalkeepers, for De Gea his ability to save with his feet and legs was paramount to his individual success.

Where It Started to Go Wrong

The first game of the 2018 World Cup saw Portugal draw with Spain 3-3 after a wonderful Cristiano Ronaldo hattrick. However, the second of his three was due to a massive goalkeeping error from Spain’s new number one.

Coming off the back of a great season for his club this sort of error from De Gea was unthinkable. It was from this moment his excellent shot-stopping ability was less prominent and his status as the best in the world started to fade. He was becoming an average goalkeeper.

David De Gea’s position came back under serious scrutiny after his poor performance in the Europa League final where he did not save any of the eleven penalties he faced and missed his own. The greatest issue with De Gea now is his lack of adaptation to the modern goalkeeping game.

The areas he struggles in are commanding his box, the sweeping of balls over the tops of defenders, and his ability to distribute the ball. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the latter two of the three deficiencies mentioned could be allowed as United were more likely to soak up pressure and break teams on the counterattack.

This meant they could play a lower defensive line which was less susceptible to long balls over centre-backs, and it also meant they had little need for consistent building from the back. It was only when Solskjaer tried to move away from transitional football that De Gea’s problems became apparent.

The Goalkeeper Situation Now

Erik ten Hag’s possession-based football approach is reliant on a goalkeeper being able to distribute the ball consistently well and at the moment David De Gea is not able to do so. Showcased in the Brentford defeat where he decided to pass the ball to Christian Eriksen despite him not being a valid passing option.

Ten Hag has been keen on recruiting another goalkeeper this season with Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka being the leading man. Whilst he is not the greatest goalkeeper on the ball, the hope seems to be that he will provide healthy competition for De Gea.

De Gea Fights to Continue Legend Status

In the last 10 years of the Premier League, it is hard to argue that any goalkeeper has been better than De Gea. During this time, year on year United fans showed their unwavering love for him and that has caused confliction for them in recent times. If Ten Hag can bring him into the modern game, there is no doubt the fans will be signing his praises again.

Whilst De Gea may not be at the level he once was, saves like the one he made against Liverpool late in the second half are reminders of what the Spanish great once was.