Coming into the season, David De Gea had visibly bulked up. He had been hitting the weights in the gym and his lanky frame had filled out to cope with the physicality of the Premier League. He looked the part. He looked ready.
De Gea started off this season in much the same fashion as he ended the last – in sparkling form. A string of fine saves against Everton kept United in the game but he could do nothing about Fellaini’s powerful header that gave Everton the victory.
“I think young David made a mistake last week. He knows it. With the form he’s been in, he’s been making some fantastic saves, but one error like that could have cost us the game. It’s just a learning process for him and he’ll be back in a couple of weeks’ time.” Sir Alex Ferguson
Against Fulham, he was continuing to impress up until a mix up between Vidic and De Gea led to an own goal, letting Fulham back into the game. It should be noted here that, as much as De Gea should of connected with his punch and cleared the danger against Fulham, Nemanja Vidic played more than a bit part role in the goal and I think he should be taking some of the blame for it. He is far away from his imperious best, understandable after eight months out, and he could of done a better job himself for the goal.
Subsequently, Sir Alex dropped De Gea and gave the gloves to Anders Lindegaard for the dramatic 3-2 victory against Southampton yesterday but was dropping the young Spaniard the right thing to do?
I don’t think so. After Lindegaard injured his ankle last year, De Gea went from strength to strength. A stable run in the first team boosted his confidence no end and he started putting in the performances his £20 million price tag warranted, none more so than his antics in the 3-3 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
In the second half of the season, I would confidently argue that he was one of the best goalkeepers in the league. Behind a growing partnership of Ferdinand and Evans, he was improving in every game. For someone so young, he was starting to show the early signs of the presence and character needed to be a successful keeper.
In Anders Lindegaard, we have another superb goalkeeper. The Dane has got better at a remarkable rate, look no further than his wonderful double save for the U21s last week, and if not for the ankle injury he sustained, I’m sure he would of continued between the sticks; but as much as I admire that he is a great talent, I don’t think dropping De Gea is going to him or United any favours.
It is the hardest position to play in. More often than not, only mistakes are highlighted and good performances regularly play second fiddle to actions further up the pitch. The high pressure can get to some but as much as a striker needs confidence to score goals, a goalkeeper needs confidence to keep them out.
De Gea has to build a working relationship with the defence in front of him. The fact that we are suffering from one of our traditional defensive crises is not helping the situation, as it is infinitely more difficult to establish that relationship with an ever changing back four, but being dropped for an individual mistake surely just makes it harder.
Sir Alex is only trying to teach David that his place is not guaranteed and mistakes can cost him his spot but this, to me, seems the wrong way to go about it. I can’t ever remember a club which has successfully rotated two goalkeepers over a whole season (let me know if you can).
There’s no doubting the ability of Lindegaard and if it weren’t for De Gea, I’m sure United fans would be confident to have him between the sticks but the fact of the matter is we paid £20 million for De Gea, and he will be a United keeper for many years to come. What he needs is game time, game time to build confidence and presence, not the ever present thought looming over his head that a mistake will cost him his spot.
Every top class goalkeeper is susceptible to making errors. Nobody is perfect and De Gea is no exception but if we are going to bring the best out of him this season, Sir Alex needs to show complete faith in him, even if he does make a mistake or two. Everybody is human after all.