David de Gea made another huge mistake in Manchester United’s 1-1 draw against Chelsea to leave his team’s hopes of securing Champions League football next season looking bleak. What has happened to United’s once-reliable goalkeeper?
If there was a debate beforehand about whether or not David de Gea is suffering a crisis of confidence, this confirmed it. Chelsea had not even tested him in the first 42 minutes but when finally called upon to make a save, De Gea just couldn’t do it.
Antonio Rudiger’s long-range effort was the sort that shot that any leading goalkeeper would expect to deal with but the Manchester United man could only fumble it into the path of Marcos Alonso. His team had to settle for a 1-1 draw and their top-four hopes took another hit.
De Gea has made more errors leading to Premier League goals this season
“David de Gea, I don’t know what to say. He is having a nightmare of a time,” Gary Neville told Sky Sports. “Well done to Alonso, who is alive and alert, but De Gea, what a time he is having. I remember I had a nightmare time at the end of the 1999/2000 season and I just needed the summer. De Gea needs the summer to clear his head, get away from football and reset.
“It’s so difficult for him at the moment.”
It is the fourth consecutive match in which De Gea has found himself being blamed for a goal. Against Barcelona, he allowed Lionel Messi’s shot to sneak underneath his body. At Everton, he was slow to get to his right and stop Gylfi Sigurdsson’s strike from distance.
His mistake in the Manchester derby was to kick Leroy Sane’s shot into the corner of his own net but it was his handling this time. All the mistakes have been slightly different in nature but they all fall under the category of shot-stopping – his greatest strength.
And they are adding up.
If a player in an outfield position is short on confidence you can carry them through it, but it’s very difficult to carry a goalkeeper through a difficult time.
De Gea has now made four errors directly leading to an opposition goal in the Premier League this season. Only two players in the competition have made more – Arsenal’s Bernd Leno and Everton’s Jordan Pickford. But the real significance is his own decline in form.
For context, he had made only three such errors in the previous five seasons combined. De Gea was the personification of consistency as well as excellence. He was the constant at United even when everything else was in flux. It’s unnerving to see that change.
Highlights from the 1-1 draw between Manchester United and Chelsea in the Premier League.
The United supporters inside Old Trafford remain unflinching in their support for the goalkeeper. They remember well the times that he saved their team over the years. They know too that they desperately need De Gea to regain his confidence.
“David de Gea has played too well for Manchester United for the fans to forget that and put pressure on,” added Neville. “It is the hardest position on the pitch without a shadow of a doubt because your mistake is normally a fatal one.
“If a player in an outfield position is short on confidence you can carry them through it, but it’s very difficult to carry a goalkeeper through a difficult time as they are so exposed and it unsettles the back four, the stadium, and anxiety builds. I feel for him.”
The error against Everton was debatable and his team lost 4-0 anyway. Messi had already crashed one goal into his net even before the mistake against Barcelona. There was unlikely to have been a way back for United regardless. City were by far the better team at Old Trafford and a goal up when De Gea failed to keep out Sane’s shot.
But this was different. This error that not only allowed Chelsea to equalise, tilting the balance of the contest away from his team, the subsequent draw has titled the balance of this top-four race away from United too. Solskjaer had said that if they won this game then, with Cardiff and Huddersfield to come, Champions League football would be theirs.
How costly this could be.
Solskjaer was asked about United’s home form after their stuttering victory over West Ham and downplayed the problem, arguing that one defeat in what was then 16 games represented a decent enough record. But 10 wins in 18 is the fewest number of any top-six team and 36 points is the weakest points return too.
The inability to keep clean sheets has been a huge factor in that failing. United have managed only two of them in the Premier League this season at Old Trafford. Incredibly, that’s the fewest number of clean sheets that any team has had in front of their own fans. Even Fulham and Huddersfield have three of them. It’s on De Gea that United didn’t match them on Sunday.
Solskjaer will have known that he was taking on a tough job. He will have heard the talk of players who would, in the words of his former United captain Roy Keane, throw him under the bus. He will have noted too the suggestion that some in the squad were not up to it.
But he could not possibly have expected to fall short in this race for the Champions League because of the mistakes of the man who Neville had described as United’s “one-man wall” at the back. Even a month ago it would have been an inexplicable twist.
Such is De Gea’s form right now that it’s an error that his manager has had to come to expect.
Should De Gea be dropped?
Solskjaer was asked afterwards whether this might be the right time to take De Gea out of the team.
“I think David is one who would like to play games,” Solskjaer told Sky Sports. “Of course, I will have chats with him this week and I am sure he will respond in the right way.”
Neville believes that United should stick by their goalkeeper.
“I don’t think he needs dropping, someone like Peter Schmeichel, an Edwin Van der Sar, you don’t take them out of the team, you just let them go through their difficult spell,” he added.
“Every player goes through it. It’s not a young player coming into the club who has been struggling. He has been outstanding, he has been the best player at Manchester United, the only top player in this last five or six years. You don’t ditch him as soon as he has a bad time, you pull him through it.”
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