Most of the news surrounding Manchester United this week deals with Gary Neville and the comments he made questioning goalkeeper David De Gea’s ability or lack thereof following the Spaniard’s failed clearance that led to the decisive and equalizing goal from Clint Dempsey at White Hart Lane last weekend. It seems like much of United’s defensive problems are put squarely on the (feeble?) shoulders of De Gea and in my view, such allegations are just flat out misplaced. Is De Gea at least partly culpable for the 1-1 result? Sure, but he has done enough for me to believe his upside (it is imperative we remember his age and stage in which he plays on) far outweighs his current, correctable weaknesses.
The fact of the matter is that United have conceded 43 goals in all competitions this season, 30 in the Premier League alone. How many of those is DeGea solely responsible for? I’d venture to guess less than 10 percent. These are staggering numbers when you consider that over a sample size of the last 10 Premier League seasons, United’s largest goals against total was 37 (2010-11). The club is currently on pace to concede 50 goals in the league this season, outside of Newcastle last year, you have to drop to ninth place to get to the next team that conceded such a total. As a huge United fan with a flair for reality, I really think De Gea has become the easiest scapegoat for the fans and the media as to why United can’t get on a run of consistently stout defensive performances. What do I think is really to blame for United’s defensive struggles? A combination of three distinct yet intertwined factors.
A Consistent Back Four: If you look back over United’s defensive records during successful campaigns, they typically coincide with the fact that they were able to field the same “back four” in all of the most prominent matches. Sir Alex, the players themselves have routinely talked about how important this is to a team’s overall defensive record, but I would go one step further. It is also essential when you have made the decision to field a 22 year old goalkeeper who doesn’t have a firm grasp of the English language. Since GK is the most consistent position on the field, a constant mash up of the four men in front of him simply inhibits the entire defense’s ability to gel into an effective unit. This above all else this season is why I believe United having conceded like they have, not the goalkeeper, or the team’s mentality as a whole.