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Does David De Gea have the ability to play in Erik ten Hag’s system?

by Seth Dooley

There has been much discourse surrounding David de Gea’s capabilities to transition into a modern style of goalkeeper.

The Spaniard has been an undoubtedly excellent shot-stopper with superior reflexes over the last decade for Manchester United – albeit with a blip here and there.

Having said that, the Premier League is now littered with goalkeepers who have developed their game alongside their team’s style: Ederson with Manchester City and Alisson Becker with Liverpool being the leading examples.

Robert Sánchez of Brighton Hove & Albion even progressed his ball-playing abilities last season in keeping with Potter’s philosophy. David Raya of Brentford has impressed as well.

De Gea’s passing success rate last season was 68.9% in the Premier League (38 appearances). Sánchez, De Gea’s compatriot, in comparison totalled a 67.4% passing success rate (37 appearances).

This may be surprising given the previous paragraph’s praise for the Brighton’s goalkeeper – however, the key difference is that Sánchez averaged 16 more passes per ninety minutes than De Gea.

Potter entrusted him to constantly play out from the back and afforded him the ability to make mistakes as he developed throughout the season.

Ederson, on the other hand, scored a remarkable 88.8% passing success rate. There is clearly a staggering gulf in modern-day quality between the goalkeepers of the two Manchester clubs.

Erik ten Hag was noted for his desire to play out from the back and built a successful possession-based team on two occasions at Ajax.

He liked Ajax to play around the back to entice teams and move opposition players out of position in order to slice quickly through the midfield.

Many are now, as a consequence of the Dutchman’s philosophy and preferred style of play, questioning De Gea’s suitability to this new iteration of Manchester United.

This season, across six Premier League matches, De Gea currently holds a 55.5% passing success rate. Is he crumbling under the pressure?

It is also evident that he does not feel confident in his own ability: he has upped his long ball average by nearly two per game compared to last season (3.1 in 2021/22; 4.8 in 2022/23).

The Brentford match was a clear indictment on his ball-playing success and short passing – he has clearly forgone attempting to consistently play out from the back as a result of the 0-4 mauling.

United’s most recent two fixtures have been in the Europa League against Sheriff Tiraspol and Real Sociedad. De Gea has notched a very impressive 87.5% passing success rate in these two European matches.

Indeed, the opposition may be of a lesser quality (although Sociedad are by no means to be sniffed at) than top clubs in the Premier League, but the De Gea’s improvement over these two matches is unquestionable.

Will he be able to consistently improve his ball-playing ability and better his passing throughout this season? For De Gea, it is crucial that he does if he wants to remain a key cog at Manchester United under Ten Hag.

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