Prior to Manchester United’s Champions League with Sevilla in midweek, the subject of David De Gea’s future reared its ugly head again.
Manager Jose Mourinho, speaking to reporters at his pre-match press conference, batted the question away with the confidence of a man who believed that his side’s European run would not be coming to an end 24 hours later.
“I see him here – I don’t know what the intentions are of Real Madrid but they should think about another player.”
Of course, we all know what happened next. Wissam Ben Yedder’s double ensured that Man United would be going no further than the Champions League first knockout round – leaving Mourinho to face some very uncomfortable questions regarding his management of the team and tactics over the two legs.
The second goal, in particular, was interesting because it brutally exposed what can happen to this Man United team when De Gea isn’t able to clean up every single miss they make. So often the Spanish international has been their saviour, but a rare mistake by the former Atletico man laid bare this team for what it is – a stodgy, misaligned group of individuals with an unhealthy reliance on a keeper that bailed them our far, far too many times.
Deep down, De Gea must be aware of that. He must be aware of the absolute mess they would be in if he wasn’t around to pull off world-class saves at will to stop them conceding.
The expected goals metric, the new au fait measure of showing how a particular team or player is faring, has shown that De Gea has almost been single-handedly keeping Man United in second place for the past few months.
20 – David de Gea has saved 20/21 opposition shots that he’s faced in the Champions League this season. He has only conceded one goal but Opta xG data suggests that the average goalkeeper would have conceded five goals from these shots. Superhuman. #MUNSEV pic.twitter.com/e1WRAj5HvA
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 13, 2018
That’s a phenomenal achievement, and his xG rating in the Premier League is even more impressive, but has anyone stopped to question how and why the Man United defence have been allowing him to face so many opposition shots in the first place?
Mourinho said in 2017 that “when a goalkeeper is the player of the season it’s because something is wrong.” Barring a titanic shift in form, then something will be officially wrong at the end of this campaign.
In 30 games, Ederson at Man City has conceded 20 goals. De Gea has conceded 23. The latter has also made almost double as many saves as his Brazilian counterpart.Granted, as a goalkeeper De Gea might be happy to be part of the action but he’s basically carrying that Man United defence right now, and that has to be a worry for him.
It probably wouldn’t bother him as much if Man United were competing for trophies at the pinnacle of English and European football, but he’s at Old Trafford in the post-Ferguson era, a period that has seen the club decline and, to a lesser extent, stagnate. This is his seventh year at the club, and in that time he has one Premier League, one FA Cup, one Europa League and one League Cup to show for it. His Champions League involvement, meanwhile, has been two group stage exits, two second-round defeats and a solitary quarter-final place.
He, of all people at that club, deserves better.
Gary Neville recently referred to De Gea as the only world class player that Man United have, even in a side that includes the likes of Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez. World class players don’t stay around in teams like this, they don’t stay for being knocked out in the Champions League in March or languishing fifteen points behind their closest rivals in the most one-sided title ‘race’ in Premier League history.
De Gea will be at the World Cup with Spain this summer. He’ll be rubbing shoulders with international teammates from Barcelona and Real Madrid, with teeming medal collections, knowing that he is on their level but unable to hit those heights in his current club environment.
Can he take the risk that Man United will finally get it right this summer, after yet another transfer window of trying to throw money at their problems? Can he, at the age of 27, afford to waste any more of his career committing to a project that’s too far away from being realised?
He almost joined Real Madrid once before. If the Spanish giants come calling again this summer, can he afford to turn them down?