David De Gea’s rise easing Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United transformation

Manchester United limped to an uninspired 1-0 loss to Brighton to complete a treble of losses to the three newly promoted clubs on Friday. It was yet another performance which laid bare all their flaws. Virtually nobody did, nor should have, escaped censure for the lethargy and lack of desire United displayed after having spent weeks banging on about the need to solidify a second place finish.

Among those who participated in one of the most diabolically poor performances of the season, only David De Gea emerged with credit to his name. A quick twitch save in the first half from a 25-yard thunderbolt from Glenn Murray was the lone highlight of United’s performance and kept them in the game longer than they deserved.

That’s been par for the course this season.

While the rest of the squad has careened wildly between looking like an unstoppable force and periods where there’s no desire or purpose to their play, the Spaniard has been a rock. Just this week, for his efforts, De Gea was named Matt Busby Player of the Year for the fourth time in five years. While players like Jesse Lingard and Nemanja Matic were worthy contenders, there was simply nobody more deserving or even close, to be frank.

It’s quite spectacular for a team which, in spite of yesterday’s horror show, looks set for an 80+ point season and a second place finish with the chance at winning an FA Cup that there is no question the goalkeeper has been the standout performer. Without De Gea in the net the Europa League may beckon yet again. The number of points and results preserved almost entirely through his efforts has been stunning.

Of course, there was his stunning performance against Arsenal back in December which could be the standout goalkeeping performance in the entire Premier League era. Under the lights at the Emirates De Gea was spectacular, making 14 saves in total, the most memorable of which was an immaculate double save, first stopping a close-range strike from Alexandre Lacazette before making a quick reaction stop to stonewall now teammate Alexis Sanchez from point blank.

He was so good he had Arsenal supporters arguing he could save the Titanic.

One of the unique hallmarks of De Gea’s style is his ability to make saves from short distances utilizing his feet. It was this technique to turn away what looked an inevitable goal for Joël Matip which helped United preserve a point at Anfield against Liverpool in a performance where United barely seemed able to string passes together and truly deserved nothing.

In the club’s memorable 3-2 comeback victory in the Manchester derby over Manchester City, Paul Pogba emerged with the plaudits for his two-goal star turn. But it was De Gea’s save of a Sergio Aguero header which seemed destined for the back of the net which saw United through to ensure a famous result which temporarily delayed City’s title celebrations.

Pogba knew it too.

Performances like de Gea’s first leg stunner in the Champions League away to Sevilla will be forgotten as United were eliminated in the return fixture at Old Trafford, but that they were in it at all was solely down to his influence. The loss to Sevilla was more memorable as it made clear that despite the progress being made, Jose Mourinho’s rebuild of the United squad was far from done.

Despite the fortunes, the Portuguese has spent in the transfer market during his two seasons at the club, injuries and a lack of consistent form has forced him to constantly chop and change the lineup to find solutions. That lack of stability is at least partially to blame for United’s rollercoaster form in a season which has demonstrated progress but still leaves you wanting and expecting more.

During this period of transition it is De Gea’s brilliance which has helped to mask the growing pains. United have thrived in fits and starts, but finding their top level as a team has proven to be a struggle.

Mourinho will look to put the finishing touches on his overhaul this summer with more quality in midfield and reinforcements at both fullback positions looking like an absolute certainty. In the interim, the lack of fluency and cohesiveness in their play means United are often reliant on their individual quality to shine through and make the telling contributions.

Star names litter United’s team sheet week after week, but it is only De Gea who has shone throughout the campaign. That consistent brilliance is the bedrock of United’s relative success this year and stands as the foundation on which Mourinho’s rebuild has been reliant and built upon.

Written by Ashwin Ramnath

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