Signed for a British record fee for a goalkeeper at around £17 million, David de Gea joined Manchester United last season with an enviable reputation.
He helped Athletico Madrid win both the UEFA Europa League 2009-2010 and the UEFA Super Cup in 2010 and before that, won Spain’s U17 2007 European Championship and finished second at the subsequent 2007 World Cup. He also played in the Spain U21 team that won the 2011 European Championship and is currently captain of Spain U21 side.
He has won more trophies than some established EPL goalkeepers have won in their entire careers and is already worth much more than them financial-wise. Not a bad reputation for someone who is only turning 22 this year.
It is only natural to assume he has developed a winning mentality, having tasted success at such a young age. All he had to do was acclimatize himself to the rigours of the Premier League, and he would be on the road to become a more-than-worthy goalkeeper for United.
Herein lies the problem.
David De Gea himself admitted he found it tough to adapt to life on and off the pitch following his move to Manchester United last summer.
“It’s more aggressive, more physical. It’s far, far harder. The ball is in the air more and you get pushed about. And the referees don’t blow for anything!”
At a tall 190cm in height and a mere 77 kilos in weight, he was judged to be too light for his frame and could have problems with the more physical style of play from the Premier League teams.
He was judged to be at fault for his first game against West Brom when Shane Long’s tame shot crept under his arms. United, however, won that match 2-1.
There is no denying he is a good shot stopper, with a highlight being his save in the 3-1 home victory against Chelsea, against Ramires’ shot after scrambling across the goal to block the shot.
The key here, however, is consistency. The consequences of making mistakes for a goalkeeper are graver than mistakes from outfield players. You would have noticed how he was struggling to catch aerial balls, especially being under pressure with bodies in his way.
He got away with a few mild mis-timed catches early in the season, but essentially, he cost United at least a point in their 3-2 defeat of Blackburn at old Trafford. That was the last straw for Sir Alex Ferguson, and he was dropped immediately for the next game and replaced by Anders Lindegaard.
There’s no denying that Lindegaard has been pretty impressive in goal. He was solid, reliable and deservedly got a number of clean sheets under his belt. But the key factor is that Lindegaard’s 5 clean sheets last season all came against weaker teams – Norwich, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Fulham and Wigan. On the other hand, he conceded 3 against arguably the toughest team he had faced so far – Newcastle (United lost 0-3 to them at The Sports Direct Arena that night).
Despite this, de Gea returned to starting lineup after an unfortunate injury to Lindegaard, and he hasn’t looked back since.
De Gea came back into the starting lineup with a point to prove, making impressive and important saves for United time and again. He pinpointed the key moment that turned around his début season with United being his save from Juan Mata’s free kick that was heading for the top corner in the 3-3 draw at Chelsea. He also had one of his best performances in the 2-3 defeat to Athletic Bilbao at Old Trafford in the Europa Cup Quarter Final.
To see how well David de Gea fared with other goalkeepers in the Premier League last season, let’s have a look at the statistics of goalkeepers from the teams that finished in the top 4:
It is easy to reason that the statistics might not tell the whole story, especially because he’s played 9 fewer games than the other 3 keepers. It is also wise to qualify that some of these statistics such as number of clean sheets are based on the team’s defences as well and not only on the goalkeeping performances. But for the sake of goalkeeping comparison, let us forgo this defence rationale for a bit.
David de Gea might have the lowest number of clean sheets among the 4, but he is top in percentage of clean sheets, where he does not concede a goal in 44.8% of the matches he has played in. Another eye-catching statistic would be his 102 saves, which (considering the number of games he played) is relatively high than the other goalkeepers. In fact, de Gea finished the season with best saves-to-shots ratio in the Premier League!
As mentioned earlier, a common criticism of David de Gea early in the season is his proneness at making mistakes. The statistic showing his high cross catches proves this point. Here, we can see he catches a mere 27 crosses in 29 games and he missed 4 crosses he was supposed to catch.
However, it might surprise some to note that he has the highest percentage of ground 50-50 wins, where he is successful in 91% of his 50-50 challenges, and he made 2 interceptions, when the other goalkeepers did not make any at all. Furthermore, he did not lose any possession whenever he is with the ball. This goes to show how some of his criticisms about being very error prone can be rather unjustified.
Another statistic I would like to bring up would be his supposed infamous reputation of not being as adept with long-range shots from opponents. Based on his statistics, of the 29 goals he conceded, only 4 of the goals were conceded from outside the penalty box. Doesn’t seem that much of a problem if you ask me.
So as you can see, David de Gea’s statistics definitely make him worthy of being in one the best teams in England and the world. He has fantastic distribution, his presence is growing in the team and he is surely getting used to the rigours of the Premier League.
Interestingly, David de Gea says he has been taking inspiration from Tottenham’s Brad Friedel to help him get to grips with life as a Premier League keeper.
“He is excellent in one-on-one situations and also when faced with free-kicks. Watching him makes me want to play for United when I’m 40!”
What’s important now is the upcoming second season for de Gea, whether he can maintain the same level he did for United at the end of last season.
My prediction is there would still be the odd wobbly moments. Mind you, he’s just a kid. Goalkeepers have far longer playing careers than outfield players, with most of them peaking when they’re way past 30 years of age.
But there is no doubt he will be a success at United. My biggest fear is not whether he’ll be able to reach the levels of Schmeichel or Van der Sar, but whether he’ll stay at United when he does reach that level.