The Spaniard kept the lively hosts at bay as they mounted an onslaught before half time, tipping Steven N’Zonzi’s header over the bar.
De Gea’s next save left the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium in a state of shock as he somehow managed to palm away a point-blanc header from Luis Muriel, with the Columbian striker even praising the keeper afterwards.
And Mata, speaking to Marca, noted that he made saves of that brilliance on a daily basis at Carrington.
“I see it many times, in training and matches,” he said. “For me he is the best goalkeeper in the world.”
We may just look back at that save as the turning point in the tie. Sevilla had sensed blood prior to the break and as Muriel, alone in the box with all the time in the world, lined up a header you could detect time slowing down, the whole ground waiting for the net to bulge.
But it didn’t. De Gea, whose expression hardly changed throughout the evening, had denied them when it seemed impossible, and Sevilla – crucially – weren’t the same afterwards, creating openings but snatching at any chances they had.
It was almost as if De Gea’s antics between the sticks had damaged Sevilla’s collective confidence. After a save like that, you felt as if the home side didn’t believe in their ability going forward as strongly as they had done before.
Supporters will just hope that United don’t need to rely on him once again in the second leg on March 13.