David de Gea's consistency of errors makes Sergio Romero a safer option for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Manchester United can't afford to ignore the deteriorating technique and confidence of the world’s best-paid goalkeeper
It used to be Manchester United’s favourite slogan on social media. ‘Dave Saves’ tended to trend. ‘Dave Blunders’ does not rhyme but has become a regular theme during a two-year period that has looked less like a blip than a slump.
David de Gea handed Chelsea a place in the FA Cup final. He could have been at fault for their first and third goals. There was no doubt he was horribly culpable for Mason Mount’s strike.
It has started to feel the signature De Gea mistake, when a shot squirms through his hands. The former United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich talked about technical problems causing “a consistency of errors” over the last eight to 12 months. Others would date the malaise back to the 2018 World Cup.
Only Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka has been debited with more errors leading to goals in the Premier League over 24 months and it is worth remembering both some of De Gea’s mistakes have come in the FA Cup and the Champions League and Steven Bergwijn’s goal for Spurs, which prompted the watching Roy Keane to say he would not let the Spaniard back on the team bus, was somehow not classified as an error.
Yet it ranked in a compendium of errors. There were Arsenal and Barcelona and Chelsea last season. This year, he tamely pushed Ismaila Sarr’s shot into his net and cleared the ball into Dominic Calvert-Lewin, sending it cannoning into his goal.
When Bergwijn scored, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer repeated United’s years-long mantra that De Gea was still the best goalkeeper in the world. It is a moot point if it was ever true, but now it displayed an ignorance of Alisson and Ederson, Manuel Neuer and Marc Andre ter Stegen, Jan Oblak and others. The more immediate question is whether De Gea is even the best goalkeeper on United’s books.
There can be times when the naturally upbeat Solskjaer is reluctant to accept unpleasant truths but he said on Sunday: “David knows he should have saved the second goal.” There was an irony, perhaps, in his selection.
Goalkeepers whose careers went downhill fast
Sergio Romero often plays in the Cups and has a reputation as perhaps the finest reserve goalkeeper in England. In short, he is a safe pair of hands when De Gea has not been.
Solskjaer is unlikely to jettison him but a further mistake at Leicester on Sunday could cost United Champions League football. There is a case to promote Romero and demote the world’s best-paid goalkeeper.
Which is another concern. De Gea isn’t quite Alexis Sanchez with gloves but United again feel a prisoner of their inability to negotiate deals. They should be in a position of strength, with Dean Henderson described by Solskjaer as a future United No. 1 and the option of recalling the fast-improving youngster from Sheffield United for next season. But, whatever happens, they will be stuck with De Gea.
Jose Mourinho, who may feel the Spaniard’s struggles contributed to the poor results that led to his sacking, is scarcely an impartial observer but he made a valid point last September when he suggested De Gea’s lucrative new contract was an illusory coup for United.
“I don't see the pressure. Who is going to pay David these numbers?” he said. “One or two years ago, he had the world after him, in this moment the majority of the big doors were closed.” If there were few vacancies at the elite clubs, the reality is his form would deter many a suitor. De Gea feels unsellable.
The immediate issue is whether Romero should play now and the question that must be resolved relatively quickly is whether Henderson is installed as the first choice next season. But the broader issue is whether De Gea is in decline or whether his technique and confidence can be repaired.
At 29, he should be near his peak but the notion that goalkeepers are at their best in their early thirties can feel increasingly unreliable. There are some, such as Joe Hart, Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina, who emerge early but are going downhill before they reach 30.
De Gea is another who started young. His difficulties are no short-term affair, but his long-term future offers United a further conundrum.
Published: July 20, 2020 03:03 PM