TACTICAL THOUGHTS: DAVID DE GEA
This season David De Gea steps into the United team fully content that his place is cemented and it appears that Lindegaard’s challenge is futile.
It wasn’t always this plain sailing, as De Gea admittedly found his first season tough (see his game against Blackburn as the low point).
“It’s more aggressive, more physical. It’s far, far harder. The ball is in the air more and you get pushed about. And the referees don’t blow for anything!”
His frailty was an obvious deficiency in his game; however we’ve seen his waif-like frame fill out and credit must be given to United’s backroom staff as a more confident goalkeeper has emerged as a result of their work.
In July 2011, United’s goalkeeping coach Eric Steele said of De Gea: “He’s just a unique talent. Ultimately, I think they come around in cycles. Iker Casillas was 17 when he got in the Real Madrid team, I saw Gianluigi Buffon when he was 17… The qualities we’ve all seen, and the manager has seen, have ticked the boxes. There is always an element of ‘Can they handle 76,000 at Old Trafford?’ but I’ve seen him play at the Nou Camp, man of the match. Not fazed.” Steele’s contribution to De Gea’s development cannot be underestimated; he learnt Spanish to ease the youngster in.
The statistics can back his improvement up. In his second trophy winning season de Gea won 88% of aerial battles and, of all Premier League keepers, conceded the least number of goals, only 26 in total. Yet it wasn’t until the turn of the year, coinciding with Vidic’s return that a real transformation happened.
Before Christmas, De Gea conceded 17 of United’s 20 goals. From January he achieved six successive clean sheets and an impressive array of statistics: He conceded on average 0.909 goals per Premier League match, averaged 3.23 saves per game and it took the opposition 3.55 shots on target to beat him.
De Gea is no stranger to success. Of United’s young players he has been one of the most phenomenally successful, both for Atletico Madrid and junior Spanish national sides. In 2007 he won Spain’s U17 European Championship and finished second in the World Cup that year. He won the UEFA Europa League in the 2009 – 2010 season, followed by the UEFA Super Cup in 2010. He went on to play in the Spanish U21 side that won the 2011 and 2013 European Championship. This bodes well for United as the thirst for winning trophies cannot be underestimated, and the longevity associated with goalkeepers means that he has time to transmit his desire for glory to the rest of the United players.
Being nicknamed Van De Gea by United’s players and staff shows the esteem in which he’s held and, like his predecessor, his passing stats are impressive.
United’s wide play was generally poor last season, so De Gea’s tendency to play the ball out wide wasn’t as useful as it might otherwise have been. We are keen to find out how United’s new goalkeeping coach, yet to be confirmed but possibly Everton coach Chris Woods, can improve De Gea’s distribution? Woods was a quality keeper, playing 1196 minutes of competitive football without conceding a goal. This record was beaten by Van der Sar in 2009.
It’s no coincidence that Tim Howard’s keeping developed during his time at Everton, considering that Woods is also the U.S.A. goalkeeping coach. Everton’s style of distribution meant that Howard had to become more accurate. This, together with his maturing as a player, led to overall improvements in his play.
An ability to start attacks via a keeper playing a high line may be an ingredient in Moyes’ approach at United, particularly against the high line passing teams so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.
It is pleasing to see the development of De Gea and he makes the right noises about his future. As he says, “I’m happy in Manchester, it has been a very good season, and the longer I’m there, the better it goes. I have a contract and hope to be at United for many years.”
We hope so too!