After three brilliant results, Saturday saw the first real blip under Erik ten Hag as Manchester United were held to a disappointing 2-2 draw by Aston Villa.
Despite a terrible pitch and relentless weather conditions, the Red Devils would have been expected to carry forward the momentum they had shown in their previous pre-season games.
But as Ten Hag said at the end of Saturday’s contest, “For the players, for the team, I think we make a lot of progress, a lot of positive aspects. I would say also, at the end, a setback, but it’s also part of the season, a season is not always going up, you also have to have setbacks and have to deal with it.”
But the Dutch manager will be fuming inside, especially when looking back at the manner in which United conceded the equaliser deep into added time.
De Gea’s position in danger
From a Leon Bailey corner, Callum Chambers headed in with goalkeeper David de Gea left rooted to the spot. He was trying to complain that he was being held off by Villa defenders but this has been a long-standing issue with the Spaniard.
While he is a great shot-stopper, he is often guilty of flapping when it comes to collecting crosses under pressure and when players gang up on him during set-pieces. So many Premier League teams have taken advantage of this issue and history might be set to repeat itself once the season starts.
Don't wanna slag De Gea off because i thought during the tour he improved massively.
But stuff like this will cost us next season.pic.twitter.com/wB2nS6PR2C
— Paul, Manc Bald and Bred (@MufcWonItAll) July 23, 2022
After numerous high-profile gaffes, then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer started putting in Dean Henderson in goal and at one point, it seemed like the England international would finally realize his long-standing dream of becoming United’s No 1.
But the competition seemed to have brought the former Atletico Madrid man back to life and last season, he was back to his best in terms of shot-stopping and was adjudged Players’ Player of the Year.
But pre-season under the Dutchman has seen familiar cracks starting to show. Fans were delighted to see the Spanish international come off his line and play as a sweeper-keeper against Liverpool.
But against Crystal Palace, he let in a dodgy goal as he failed to claim a header and it ricocheted off his knee into the goal and he was also shouted at by the new boss for launching one upfield. And WACA witnessed the worst of the 31-year-old.
Villa could have equalised early on in the second half from an identical position. Bailey’s corner was again missed by a hesitant De Gea and he was lucky that Ezri Konsa couldn’t stab the ball in.
Mistake letting Dean go?
He adamantly declared in his interview with the English media that he wants to stay in Manchester for the rest of his career but Ten Hag might have different ideas if these mistakes keep happening. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have showed little emotion while displacing long-serving keepers in their teams.
The Dutchman wants his goalies to have the ability to initiate attacks, play as a sweeper-keeper at times and have full command of their box. De Gea is also not the best with the ball at his feet, and despite his comments stating otherwise, that was one of the main reasons why Spanish national team coach Luis Enrique dropped him from the squad.
Dean Henderson vs Hertha BSC 🏴🧤 (Doesn’t include every action from the Englishman 🚨) pic.twitter.com/ogGRSjCMHE
— ︎Deano fan🇬🇧™️ (@SeazonDeano) July 20, 2022
There were always question marks whether the Madrid-born shot-stopper could adapt to the Dutch boss’ methods. There is still time left but De Gea must be a worried man at the moment.
Unfortunately, United’s options appear limited at the moment with only Tom Heaton available as senior back-up as Henderson has already left on loan to Nottingham Forest.
The young goalkeeper has been shining for Forest in his loan spell and his highlights reel from the match featuring Forest and Hertha Berlin went viral on United’s leading Reddit page. And Saturday’s display is sure to once again stir up the hornet’s nest as to who should be United’s No 1 going forward.