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Is it time for Manchester United to look beyond David de Gea?

Manchester United
Manchester United's David de Gea has been in decline in the last two seasons.
Aaron Gales
ANALYST
Modified 21 Jul 2020, 12:56 IST
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The worst thing you could say about David de Gea's abject performance in Manchester United's FA Cup semifinal defeat against Chelsea was that it did not come as a surprise.

The Spanish custodian dished out a performance that was sadly, grimly predictable for a player whose downfall has been as rapid as it has been unexpected.

David de Gea has been an absolute stalwart for Manchester United. He has played over 400 games and won nine trophies for the club while also picking up four Player of the Year trophies.

But over the last two seasons, and particularly since the 2018 FIFA World Cup, David de Gea's form has dipped significantly to an extent that a mistake against Tottenham Hotspur in United's first game after the lockdown provoked an extraordinary rant from club legend Roy Keane.

What is ailing Manchester United's David de Gea?

David de Gea has been uncharacteristically error-prone for Manchester United in recent times.
David de Gea has been uncharacteristically error-prone for Manchester United in recent times.

There is a feeling that perhaps David de Gea has become too comfortable and confident in his position as the Manchester United number one and that he will continue to be picked regardless of the mistakes he continues to make.

Only a couple of weeks ago, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised his much maligned goalkeeper, calling David de Gea the 'best goalkeeper in the world'. Defending David de Gea after that infamous Keane rant, Solskjaer had said:

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"On Friday he might have saved it, he might not. But he makes great saves for us. He wins games for us. I still think he is the best goalkeeper in the world."

Solskjaer's approach in sticking with his goalkeeper initially has been the right one. It's such a crucial position for any team that the last thing any manager wants to be doing is chopping and changing his custodian. The relationship between the goalkeeper and the defenders in front of him is so important that continuity is key, but it can't and shouldn't be indefinite.

The Norwegian tactician has made great progress with Manchester United this season. But he clearly has a blind spot when it comes to David de Gea which he needs to get past or it could cost Manchester United the chance of playing in the Champions League next season.

The worst thing about all this, though, is that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does have other options, both in the short and long term.

Sergio Romero is now into his fifth season with the club, and although he mostly plays in Cup competitions, has never let Manchester United down. The Argentina international, who has 59 caps for the club and played in the final of the 2017 Europa League, has only featured in seven Premier League games, however.

Romero wouldn't be overawed at the prospect of taking the gloves for the last two league games of the season and for the Europa League games which he would have expected to play anyway regardless of David de Gea's form.

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Sergio Romero has impressed when called upon for Manchester United.
Sergio Romero has impressed when called upon for Manchester United.

If he looks more long term, Solskjaer has the option to bring Dean Henderson into the Manchester United first-team picture. Henderson has spent the last three seasons out on loan, first at Shrewsbury Town and for the last two seasons at Sheffield United, amassing nearly 150 senior club appearances.

He has been outstanding in his first season in the Premier League and apart from staking his claim for the Manchester United shirt, is also putting pressure on Jordan Pickford for a place in Gareth Southgate's England team.

Manchester United
Manchester United's Dean Henderson has gathered significant experience during a series of loan spells.

So where has it all gone wrong for David de Gea? The main flaw, which was once his greatest strength, has been the regression in his shot-stopping ability. At his peak for Manchester United, David de Gea would stop everything. He could be very unorthodox at times, making a huge number of saves with his feet and legs when other goalkeepers would insist on getting their body behind the ball.

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David de Gea didn't seem to mind how he did it, as long as he kept the ball out of the back of the net. His form brought him trophies, a number of individual accolades and nearly a move to Real Madrid before his slide materialised in agonising fashion.

Over the last two seasons, he has lost his shot-stopping ability. Routine saves have become costly mistakes that have led to goals for the opposition.

According to statistics, David de Gea has only made 13 errors leading to goals in 311 Premier League appearances, which is quite impressive. However seven of those have come in the last two seasons alone.

There were two such errors in his debut season in 2011-12 and one in the next season. There were also three seasons where David de Gea didn't make a single error that led to a goal.

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However, since the 2018-19 season, David de Gea's seven mistakes that have led to goals is the joint-most by any Premier League goalkeeper during this period. The increase in the error count is significant for a goalkeeper of his calibre. 

So how has this flaw in his game come about? Following the performance against Chelsea, former Manchester United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, a man who understands the pressure of playing in goal for Manchester United, believes it is a technical flaw in David de Gea's balance which is causing the mistakes:

"I spoke some weeks ago after his error against Tottenham, and I spoke about it from a technical point of view (about) how he seems to be pushing all his balance going forward with his feet."
"Especially for the second goal, you pretty much saw that again - that's why he dived backwards. Either he is moving just before they shoot, or more likely that his balance is a little bit too lopsided. Once you start diving backwards as a goalkeeper, you are in big trouble."
"He's been fantastic for Manchester United over a long period, there's no doubt about that. But in these last eight to 12 months there have been a consistency of errors from him that we have not seen before. Ole's got to seriously weigh up about bringing in Romero for these final two games. That's a huge decision he's got to make."
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Bosnich is correct in his assessment. Solskjaer does have a huge decision to make on David De Gea, both for the short and long term success of Manchester United.

The evidence is overwhelming. It's perhaps time for a change of goalkeeper at Old Trafford.

Published 21 Jul 2020, 12:56 IST
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