David de Gea has played every minute possible under Erik ten Hag so far this season, despite early indications that the Spaniard’s Manchester United career was on the ropes.
And at the death of the summer transfer window, United secured Martin Dubravka on loan, a goalkeeper considered to be a good Premier League option with a better – if still somewhat unspectacular – track record in the facets of so-called ‘modern’ goalkeeping attributes.
However the Slovakian has not been given a chance to stake a claim for a starting spot despite De Gea’s deficiencies or poor form earlier in the season.
And Ten Hag’s comments suggest that that is unlikely to change, with the manager saying, “Everyone has their own opinion and their own philosophy.
“For me, for a goalkeeper, you have to protect the goal and make sure you don’t concede goals. In that fact, [De Gea] is magnificent.”
Those comments appear to be very much at odds with early expectations surrounding the Dutch manager, who is regarded as preferring ball-playing goalkeepers.
Ten Hag has not forgotten the importance of distribution, but he remains committed to improving the 31-year-old, rather than turning to his alternative:
“On the feet, for me, he has the capabilities as well. I think when you see this season, he is progressing from game to game on that part.”
“It has also to do with the ones in front, how you give the ‘keeper the options to bring passes in, because when they don’t run free, or in the wrong moments, or in the wrong positions, then he doesn’t have the options to pass around. But I am convinced he can do it and I think the games so far prove that. I think he will improve from game to game on that part.”
It would seem that despite De Gea’s limitations, Ten Hag considers United’s number one to be an all-round better keeper than Dubravka.
That is probably not a contentious point of view, as De Gea has historically been a world-class shot-stopper with enough ability to excuse his weaknesses.
The surprise is that the United boss has been so willing to work around David de Gea’s limitations in order to keep him in the team.
It is another sign of Erik ten Hag’s pragmatism, a trait that has seen the Red Devils capable of switching to low-block counterattacking strategies in certain matches.
Ten Hag is working with what he has available to him and, regardless of his heralding De Gea as ‘magnificent,’ one suspects he would prefer a more rounded goalkeeper. It just seems that he is not convinced that Dubravka is worth the trade-off.
Had Man United been successful in their attempts to sign Kevin Trapp in the summer, it is fairly likely that De Gea would no longer be the team’s starting goalkeeper.
But in settling for Dubravka, the club has bought the Spaniard time to get used to Ten Hag’s methods, and it is time he is using well.
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