David De Gea is making one of Solskjaer’s toughest decisions easier at Manchester United
The Manchester United goalkeeper shirt has been previously described by Gary Neville as the position with the most pressure in world football and that has shown in the last few seasons.
David De Gea had been the undisputed number one goalkeeper at the club for the best part of a decade and after three seasons in a row of stunning form, he seemed to have the position locked down as his own for as long as he wanted it.
But after 18 months or so of dodgy form, his place was suddenly under threat. De Gea made notable errors in big games, namely the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea at Wembley and United fans had lost patience.
In stepped the academy starlet Dean Henderson, who had impressed while out on loan with Sheffield United and earned himself plenty of plaudits at Old Trafford. The 24-year-old has spoken for a long time about becoming the Man United number one at some point in his career and a new long-term contract at the club following his return seemed to suggest that would happen too.
And happen it did. He was forced to wait for his chance for a run in the team, but once De Gea had to return to Spain for the birth of his first child during the pandemic Henderson was afforded the chance of an interrupted spell. He impressed too, keeping four clean sheets in eight Premier League games plus three clean sheets in four Europa League games.
De Gea returned and was firmly second choice, featuring mainly in the Europa League towards the end of the season much like Henderson had done at the start. He now had to fight for his place, a position he hadn’t been in since the first season at the club where he was competing with Anders Lindegaard for the jersey.
But as time went on, Henderson made a few errors that were attributed to inexperience and De Gea started the Europa League final against Villarreal where he will be remembered for conceding 11 penalties and then missing the decisive one in the shootout defeat.
It was expected that Henderson would start the season as the number one ‘keeper, but then he tested positive for COVID-19 and suffered with symptoms for a while afterwards. It provided the Spaniard with a second chance to claim the shirt as his own, and he hasn’t disappointed.
United have kept just one clean sheet in their four games so far, but De Gea couldn’t do much about any of the goals. Luke Ayling scored a screamer on the opening day for Leeds, Che Adams’ strike was deflected off Fred and eventually given as an own goal and Javier Manquillo blasted it into the side netting on a counter-attack.
What he has done though is show improved communication, more of a willingness to come off his line to sweep up and relieve pressure on his defenders, better distribution and also the revival of his ability to make match-winning saves.
Against Southampton he denied Adam Armstrong with an excellent save in a one-on-one situation at 1-1 to ensure the Reds left with a point. Against Wolves he made an incredible double save with the game still at 0-0 to provide the platform for Mason Greenwood ‘s goal to be the winner. Against Newcastle he denied Joelinton at 1-1 with a strong arm save and then played a stunning long pass to launch the counterattack that led to Bruno Fernandes’ goal to make it 3-1.
He has become influential once again and with Henderson returning to action finally for the Under 23’s on the same day it couldn’t have come at a better time.
He’s earned back the trust of his fans, the defence look comfortable in front of him and he’s become decisive and reliable once more. United fans should be and are delighted by it and are hopeful that this could be the return to top-level performances that De Gea is capable of.
Considering he’s been a regular since the ripe age of 18, it’s easy to forget that De Gea is only 30 years old. To put that into perspective, Edwin Van der Sar didn’t sign for Man United until he was a couple of months shy of turning 35.
We’ve seen elite goalkeepers like Iker Casillas, Manuel Neuer and Thibaut Courtois go through dips in their career where they struggled to live up to the lofty expectations set on them because of their previous levels. We watched them all return to their former glory too and be recognised as one of the best in the world again.
There is plenty of life left in De Gea and if he is now over that blip, there is no competition as to who the number one should be.