What next for David de Gea? The Manchester United goalkeeper’s form over the past two years has divided fans, with some wanting to keep the faith and others saying he is past his best. But after yesterday’s dismal performance against Chelsea that helped send United crashing out of the FA Cup, most experts now agree that the issue needs to be addressed.
Despite a number of high profile errors both last season and this, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has staunchly defended his number one up until now, insisting that he is ‘the best goalkeeper in the world’. However, for the first time yesterday, the boss spoke more candidly about the situation.
‘Obviously everyone has to perform and everyone has a chance every time we perform to stake a claim in the team,’ he said when asked if De Gea’s place in the side is safe.
‘David knows he should have saved the second goal but that’s done now. We have got to move on and look forward to Wednesday.
‘It’s hard for a keeper to make amends… apart from David making two or three fantastic saves after. He made a few good saves, but he knows he could have saved that one.
‘I can’t speak for David’s confidence but he is mentally very strong. He knows he should save that one 100 times out of 100 but that’s football for you. I made the decision to play him and mentally he was ready for it.’
The Times’ Henry Winter says Solskjaer has an important decision to make in regard to his keeper.
‘Solskjaer has a call to make on De Gea,’ Winter said.
‘The Spaniard turns 30 in November, no real age for a goalkeeper, but he cannot afford to keep making mistakes as those that gifted Chelsea their first two goals here, his hands too weak to stop Giroud’s flick and then his response too insipid to prevent Mount’s shot crossing the line.
‘The great test for any manager is to judge when a player has reached his peak and is heading down the hill on the other side.
‘This season has hardly bequeathed much belief that De Gea can scale the heights again.
‘So far United’s No 1 has notably failed to deal with Steven Bergwijn’s shot at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, driven a clearance into Dominic Calvert-Lewin and watched it fly back past him into the net at Goodison, failed to prevent Junior Stanislaus’ strike for Bournemouth at the near post, and let Ismaila Sarr’s straightforward shot slip through his hands at Vicarage Road.
‘Is it nerves, concentration, a desire to return to Spain?
‘Solskjaer has a major decision to make over De Gea, whether to stick or twist.’
BBC pundit Alan Shearer believes it is time for United to give 23-year-old Dean Henderson the gloves at Old Trafford after his stand-out season on loan at Sheffield United. When asked if De Gea should be dropped, Shearer said ‘I think it’s time. It keeps happening.’
‘I think you bring Henderson back when you think he’s going to be number one. He has to bring him back as number one otherwise keep him out on loan for experience, but, has that time come? Yes, I think it has.’
Former Blackburn striker Chris Sutton did not mince his words about De Gea’s performance yesterday.
‘In reality, Solskjaer has some serious thinking to do about who he wants as his first choice next season.
‘I called De Gea ‘useless’ on BBC radio after he conceded Manchester United’s first goal, because I felt it was incredibly weak keeping.
‘It involved good movement from Olivier Giroud but this was a standard effort that needed saving.
‘My BBC colleague Robbie Savage disagreed. But there can be no arguments about De Gea’s second gaffe.
‘This one was even worse. Mason Mount hardly caught the ball flush with his right foot, yet somehow it wormed its way under De Gea.
‘It was hopeless stuff from a goalkeeper whose confidence is clearly shot to pieces. The defending was poor, too, of course.’
The Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson believes that it was De Gea’s calamitous performance at the 2018 World Cup that triggered his decline.
‘Quite what happened in Russia will perhaps never be known, but the De Gea who came back from the World Cup two years ago was not the same keeper who went. It’s easy to come up with theories, very hard to know just what can have caused such a deflation,’ Wilson mused.
‘Whatever the reason, De Gea has gone from being arguably the best keeper in the league, a beacon of reliability who was capable, as in that fabled game at the Emirates in December 2017 when he made 14 saves, of denying an opponent almost single-handed, to being somebody from whom mistakes are no longer a surprise, somebody who is in danger of becoming a liability.’
A year ago almost to the day I wrote an article here questioning the wisdom of giving De Gea a five-year, £375,000 per week contract on the back of the awful form he showed at the end of last season.
At the time I wrote ‘What if the player peaked at age 26/27 and continues on a downward decline? What if there are concentration or confidence problems that just persist? Is this the right time to give him a five-year contract? Would it not have been safer to go with a three-year contract with an option to extend? That is a £39,000,000 gamble that I don’t think needed to be taken.’
At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, that concern appears to have been justified.
The fact is that United will struggle to move De Gea on, because no other club is likely to match his contract, or anything approaching it. United now have two players on colossal salaries who are almost certainly past their best and who they need to move on, with Alexis Sanchez being the other.
José Mourinho believes that De Gea was ‘very lucky’ to be given the contract.
‘De Gea? I think the moment when he signed his huge contract, is the moment I don’t think United needs to pay as much as that to have him,’ he said on Sky Sports (via The Mirror).
‘One or two years ago he had the world after him, in this moment, the majority of the big doors were closed.
‘Who is going to pay David these numbers? He gets a phenomenal contract in a moment where he’s a bit lucky to get it.’
De Gea this week celebrated his 400th game for United with an ill-timed tweet three hours after United’s disappointing 2-2 home draw with Southampton. On this form, it is hard to imagine that there will be many more.
Proud 4️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ pic.twitter.com/BprjyvxaxM
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