De Gea has become a liability to Manchester United


For all the positive noises being made about David de Gea by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer amid the Manchester United goalkeeper’s crisis of confidence, his demeanour around the club last week told its own story.

After another gaffe in the Old Trafford derby allowed Leroy Sane to score Manchester City’s second goal on Wednesday night, insiders described how de Gea was close to tears.

His mood in training since has been little better as he wrestled with his worst run of form since a difficult start at United raised question marks over Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to buy him from Atletico Madrid for £18.9million nearly eight years ago.

De Gea has matured into one of the finest keepers in the world since then, and United’s most consistent performer, but there is little doubt that he has become a liability at the moment.

Uncharacteristic errors in big games against Arsenal, Barcelona and City were followed by another one in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Old Trafford that cost United a vital win in the battle for a top-four place and Champions League football next season.

Statistics show that the Spaniard has made three errors leading to goals in his last four games — as many as in his previous 123 matches for United. He has not kept a clean sheet for two months and is the first United goalkeeper to concede 50 goals in a league season for 40 years.

It comes at a time when de Gea is refusing to sign a new contract unless United pay him £350,000-a-week amid interest from Paris Saint-Germain. Given the sky-high wages being paid to some of his teammates, few people argued that he was worth the money. Until now.

It has been suggested that the situation is partly to blame for de Gea’s loss of form, but those close to him believe the problem has its roots in his poor performance for Spain at the World Cup last summer. What started as a blip became a dip and now looks like a full-blown crisis. From the moment Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger took aim at goal from 25 yards two minutes before half-time, de Gea didn’t look like a man comfortable with the situation.

Unlike Granit Xhaka’s long-range effort which swerved on its way past de Gea when United lost to Arsenal at the Emirates in March, the ball didn’t appear to deviate this time. De Gea decided to try and catch the ball rather than parry, but it was a costly mistake. He spilled it catastrophically in front of goal and never looked like keeping out Marcos Alonso’s follow-up as the Chelsea defender beat him with a clever finish.

De Gea looked crestfallen and punched the turf. On the touchline, Solskjaer turned on his heels and clambered back into the dugout while his assistant Mike Phelan held his head in his hands. There were only a few minutes to the break and as de Gea headed for the dressing-room at half-time his name was chanted by fans gathered around the tunnel. He acknowledged them but still looked haunted by his latest blunder.

Former United defender and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville believes the end of the season cannot come soon enough for de Gea now.

“David de Gea, I don’t know what to say, he’s having a nightmare of a time,” he exclaimed. “What a time he’s having. I had a nightmare time towards the end of the 1999-2000 season, and I just needed the summer. He needs the summer. Get away from football and reset. It’s so difficult for him at the moment. He’s been pulling his team out for the last few years, the one man defence.”

“De Gea has built up so much credit but he is having a really torrid time. He is having a nightmare of a time.”

Neville questioned the idea of de Gea having his own goalkeeping coach and mentor, Emilio Alvarez, with him at United. There have been suggestions that his deputy Sergio Romero feels excluded by the pair’s close relationship.

“I struggle with it, the idea of players choosing their own coach,” added Neville. “The idea of the collective and the club looking after you. That is the way the game is going in terms of individual approach. I personally think it’s not right. It’s his confidence, nothing to do with the coaching.”

The big question for Solskjaer now is whether to stand by de Gea once more or turn to Romero, an Argentina international who has never let the team down when called upon. United have two games left of the season and can still beat Chelsea and Arsenal to claim a top-four place – although their chances would have been greatly enhanced had de Gea’s error not cost them two points against their rivals here.

Solskjaer was adamant before the game that his faith in de Gea had not wavered. “I trust David and for me he’s been the best player United have had for the last six or seven years,” said the United boss. “He’s been absolutely outstanding and going through tough patches is part of a footballer’s career. David will be fine.”

As he reflects on another mistake by his goalkeeper Solskjaer’s trust is going to be tested more than ever.


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