One of the shining lights and saving graces for David Moyes earlier, and Louis van Gaal now, we analyze De Gea’s rise as the best goalkeeper in the Premier League.
Louis van Gaal does not have a lot to cheer about right now. Bemoaning the lack of a “20-goal striker” despite having Robin van Persie, Falcao and Wayne Rooney as his options, craving for a creative midfielder while Juan Mata and Ander Herrera shuffle their feet nervously, and having pinned his defensive hopes on youngsters like the impressive Paddy McNair and the determined Tyler Blackett as seniors like Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans self-destruct during matches, it is surprising that Manchester United find themselves in third position, five points behind seocnd placed Manchester City.
Part of the explanation for United’s league position is the form of rival teams challenging for the Champions League places. Arsenal, Southampton, Liverpool and Spurs have been inconsistent at best, something that has favoured United. But one explanation at the club is the superb form of goalkeeper David de Gea. The Spaniard has single-handedly won at least nine points for United this season – a staggering achievement for the goalkeeper. Manchester United would probably be languishing in seventh position in the league table, a familiar disposition, thanks to a certain Scotsman’s reign.
And things might have been worse for David Moyes’s United had De Gea not stepped up to pull impressive saves last season. But the young Spaniard has come off age this term, commanding his goal and showing stone-cold composure against attackers in the Premier League. Signed by Sir Alex Ferguson in the summer of 2011 for 17.8 million pounds – a British record fee for a goalkeeper – De Gea had the unenviable task of following United great Edwin van der Sar in goal, the man who saved the penalty against Nicolas Anelka that won United the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow.
De Gea did not have the best of starts to life in England. Unassured in the box against air balls, under-confident in his own abilities against a more physical English game, the former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper was often a disappointment. He always had the talent for shot-stopping, but lacked the imposing presence that great United goalkeepers like Van der Sar and De Gea’s personal hero Peter Schemeichel had. De Gea now has the confidence to make the United goalkeeping spot his own. His excellent performances against big teams has won Van Gaal’s United the points they need to be where they are currently in the league table.
Usually, goalkeepers who save the most, are also the ones who concede a lot of goals. The logic here is that the goalkeeper that saves the most has a sub-standard defence in front of him, which is why he is having to save more shots. And if the defence is poor, the team is likely to concede a lot of goals. In the Premier League, the goalkeepers with the most saves also let in a lot of goals. With the exception of De Gea. Often finding himself behind a less than reassuring defensive line that United has, De Gea has pulled off 75 saves this season while conceding only 26 goals – a ratio of 0.34 goals conceded per save made. Only Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantillimon has made more saves than De Gea and has a better average in the Premier League.
Gary Neville famously criticized De Gea in his debut season at United, but he is the first to admit how far De Gea has come since then. He talks about his improvement in the aspects of shot stopping, air balls, crosses, positioning and commanding one-on-one situations. In fact, when United beat Liverpool 3-0 in December, former United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had to admit that this was the best performance by a goalkeeper he had seen at Old Trafford.
When compared with the best goalkeepers in the world currently, De Gea falls short a bit, though. When we compare his saves to shots faced ratio, De Gea is at 71.7%, well behind the mighty Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich who stands tall at 91.2%. In fact Mattia Perin of Genoa (80.4%), Borussia Mochengladbach’s Yann Sommer (78.1%) and Wolfsburg’s Diego Benaglio (75%) trump De Gea. But, for Manchester United at the moment, De Gea is literally the saviour. United fans would want the club to tie down the Spaniard on a long term deal as soon as possible, if he can continue to show the kind of composure that won him one on one battles against Raheem Sterling, Eden Hazard and Jack Wilshere this season. And Van Gaal would agree wholeheartedly.