One De Gea at a Time for Manchester United’s Goalkeeper
Now that the dust has settled on the first month of his Premier League career, it’s time for the first meaningful analysis of David De Gea’s start at Manchester United. In De Gea’s case, a common sense approach needs to be adopted to dissect his play at United thus far. Forget the hyperbole associated with his move and the subsequent transfer fee. Try and qualify the sometimes accurate, but more often exaggerated, criticism of his abilities. For at United, since the departure of Peter Schmeichel, no player has been scrutinized more than the man wearing the number one jersey.
Statistically speaking, De Gea’s start at United has been very good. After six league games, he has conceded four goals, made 32 saves, recorded two clean sheets, and saved a penalty. All of these stats are more than respectable. The statistic that stands out is the amount of saves he has made, which is more than any other goalkeeper in the top flight. However, it’s a figure that asks more questions than it answers. Given his uncertain start to the season, most notably the Community Shield and United’s first league match away to West Bromwich Albion, a logical argument has arisen that teams are simply taking more low percentage shots in hopes of stealing a cheap goal. To a certain extent, this is true. However, given the free-flowing nature of United’s games this season, they have been giving quality chances to their opponents with regularity. One need look no further than the United-Chelsea match, where the result could have been much different if not for Chelsea’s profligacy in front of goal.
Based on this school of thought, De Gea’s 32 saves looks like a diagnosis of the play in front of him, rather than a number used to analyze his play. In De Gea’s defense, this is unfair. Aside from the two poor goals he conceded to Edin Dzeko and Shane Long in his first two matches, De Gea’s shot stopping has been solid. Increasingly it has been brilliant, particularly in his last two matches against Chelsea and Stoke. It would appear that as he has settled in to his surroundings. The quality of play that lured suitors such as United has returned.
When you combine De Gea’s shot stopping ability with his quality footwork and distribution, he has a formidable skill set. Yet, in the Premier League a goalkeepers’ ability to dominate his own 18-yard box is crucial. De Gea has not demonstrated he can add this to his toolbox. Exhibit A would be Peter Crouch’s goal on the weekend. While fingers may point to the ease with which Crouch beat his marker, anytime a corner is headed in from the top of the 6-yard box, questions will be directed toward the goalkeeper.
Given his age and height, De Gea may be able to cut a commanding figure down the road. In order to be successful this season, United need him to be that goalkeeper now. As Ben Foster and Tim Howard can attest, only a very short window for growth is afforded to a goalkeeper at United. Up to this point, De Gea’s errors have not been damaging. While a glaring error at the Hawthorns may not cost United, a similar error would be disastrous at Eastlands. After a month, De Gea’s prospects look better than after a week, but doubt lingers.