Not since October 2014 had David de Gea stopped a penalty kick in the Premier League but when Manchester United needed their Spanish goalkeeper to pull off a stoppage time save to preserve all three points against West Ham on Sunday, he produced the goods. It was 22nd time lucky for de Gea.
While this went against the grain of de Gea’s penalty kick record, which came under scrutiny after the Europa League final loss to Villarreal when the Spaniard failed to get anywhere near a single spot kick in the shootout, it was in keeping with the impressive performances produced by the 30-year-old over the first few weeks of the new season.
Indeed, de Gea was also in sparkling form against Wolves before the international break, essentially winning United three points single-handedly with a series of strong saves. His form has been a throwback to a time when he was considered among the best goalkeepers in the European game.
Dean Henderson surely feels somewhat aggrieved to have lost his place as Manchester United’s first choice goalkeeper, missing much of pre-season after contracting Covid-19 and subsequently falling down the pecking order, but de Gea has grasped the opportunity many believed he would never get again. It appears the two shot-stoppers are pushing each other on, certainly in the case of de Gea who allowed his form to slump last season.
“You know he’s a top keeper, everyone loves having him behind them,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after the win over West Ham, highlighting de Gea after he stopped Mark Noble’s late penalty kick. “He’s come back focused, really determined, with a desire to show who he is. It’s his 11th season and we’ve never stopped believing in him, and it’s important that he also knows that.”
Solskjaer went on to describe de Gea as “a different man” this season, highlighting how the Spaniard reportedly early for pre-season in an attempt to force his way back into the United first team. This determination and focus has been evident in the way de Gea has played in the early stages of the campaign.
After a summer window that saw Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane all arrive at Old Trafford, there has been much discussion around Manchester United’s Premier League title chances this season. Along with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, Solskjaer’s side are widely viewed as one of four teams that could finish top of the pile.
The strong start they have made to the 2021/22 season supports this belief, with United taking 13 points from a possible 15 over their opening five Premier League fixtures. While Solskjaer still lacks a midfield anchor to balance his team out, the Old Trafford outfit are strong in pretty much every position, including in goal where they have two full internationals to choose from.
Ronaldo’s return has given United extra firepower while Varane has made an instant impact at the back, forging a relationship with Harry Maguire, but an in-form de Gea could push them as close to the Premier League title as anyone else. The 30-year-old has already won points for United this season and Solskjaer needs him to continue to do so.
United still have their defensive vulnerabilities, even after the addition of Varane – see how they folded away to Young Boys in the Champions League last week. de Gea, however, has the ability to mask a lot of those vulnerabilities. No team has ever won the Premier League without a good goalkeeper backing them up and de Gea is once again among the division’s best.
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