Tale of two keepers: David De Gea carries United as Brad Jones sinks Liverpool
One goalkeeper saved while looking the wrong way. The other conceded as he dived in the wrong direction.
Louis van Gaal’s No 1 was unbeatable. Brendan Rodgers’ goalkeeper was included because Simon Mignolet had become unselectable.
The Northern Irishman traded one liability for another and, when Wayne Rooney steered United into the lead, Jones flung himself to his right. The ball went to his left.
Then consider the indomitable De Gea. When Mario Balotelli advanced on goal and shot across, De Gea’s eyes were not on the ball as his right foot diverted it away from goal. It felt he was that good he did not even need to look. Bar the unpredictable Balotelli, Liverpool were cowed by his brilliance.
Raheem Sterling had four attempts to beat the Spaniard. The first came seconds before United broke the deadlock; perhaps a professional goal-getter would have scored it, but Sterling is a winger masquerading as a centre-forward. By his last chance, the simplest, he appeared intimidated. What should have been a simple goal became another stunning save.
“For the goalkeeper to get man of the match tells you everything,” Rodgers said. It was both self-justifying and true. De Gea had a psychological hold, United a morale-boosting win.
United now lead Liverpool by 10 points in the English Premier League table. The temptation is to attribute that purely to De Gea.
This completed a trio of outstanding, match-winning performances, joining his magnificent displays against Everton and Arsenal in a personal pantheon. Factor in his injury-time heroics against Stoke City and he has made an extraordinary impact.
“The team is winning, not one player,” Van Gaal said. Yet one player is making a colossal contribution.
A great goalkeeper’s influence is more pronounced when he plays behind a porous defence. There are times when Liverpool and United, historic rivals from nearby cities with comparable collections of silverware, are mirror images of each other.
Now neither has a watertight back four; indeed, because both have proved porous, each manager attempted to construct an impermeable back three. Neither succeeded. United’s clean sheet was not a collective achievement, but a personal accolade for De Gea.
Liverpool’s switch from Mignolet to Jones was prompted less by inspiration than desperation. The goalkeeper’s jersey is now his for “an indefinite period”, Rodgers said.
With Mignolet taken out of the firing line, Jones struggled on the goal line. The Australian fell over just before Robin van Persie scored United’s third.
He was sadly symptomatic of a Liverpool side who have lost their footing, their sense of direction, their confidence and their charisma since they last visited Old Trafford. They have been blinded to the requirements, this wretched season following wrong decision-making. Liverpool needed a goalkeeping upgrade and signed nine outfield players.
Certain matches illustrate that everyone else can be peripheral: football can be about goalkeepers and goalscorers. This was one such match. Consider United’s three scorers: Rooney netted his 223rd goal for the club. Juan Mata scored his 11th in his last 18 games. Van Persie is a player who won the Golden Boot in successive seasons for different clubs. They are practised, proven finishers.
In contrast, Liverpool’s line was led by Sterling, a precocious talent but one who brought up a century of appearances for the club with just 15 goals to his name. The principal reason, of course, is that he is found primarily in deeper positions.
When a striker was introduced, and the enigmatic Balotelli lent pace and purpose in his cameo, he was nonetheless one without a league goal for the club.
The Italian had missed six games with a hamstring injury. “He has come back and had a couple of opportunities,” Rodgers said, deflecting questions about Balotelli. “The whole scenario was about looking to build a team again.”
Many build from the back. With either Mignolet or Jones, Liverpool can’t.
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Published: December 14, 2014 04:00 AM