This evening Manchester United play Real Madrid in a match that we have been awaiting ever since the UEFA Champions League round of 16 draw took place just before Christmas. The press from each country [England and Spain] have been in full force for days now bigging up former United winger Cristiano Ronaldo and slating the ‘hooligan’ and ‘bogey man’ Wayne Rooney. It is surprising that the great British press have not had another dig at David De Gea!

De Gea has some valuable experience in Spanish football having made his full La Liga debut against Real Zaragoza on the 3rd October 2009. After that he made a handful of appearances for Atlético Madrid before securing his spot in the first team in January 2010. In the 2009/10 season, De Gea played Barcelona at the Estadio Vicente Calderón in a match which saw his Atlético Madrid win 2-1. Despite the victory, De Gea made six saves in the match, which for a 19-year-old goalkeeper, was some achievement. The Barcelona team that day had Zlatan Ibrahimović and Lionel Messi spearheading their attack. Also that season De Gea face Real Madrid in a local derby played at the Santiago Bernabéu. Atlético Madrid were beaten 3-2 by a strong galactico side in which new signing Cristiano Ronaldo put in a performance earning him Man of the Match.

In total in the 2009/10 season, David De Gea made 34 starts and one substitute appearance and made 113 saves during those matches, which for a 19-year-old playing in top-level Spanish football, was pretty damn good.

The following season, De Gea was a more established number 1 for Atlético Madrid and made more appearances. He was now being scouted by some of Europe’s elite clubs, including Manchester United who would sign him the following summer. De Gea would feature in all six matches with Real Madrid and Barcelona and although Atlético Madrid lost all six, his performances were still top class. On the 19th September 2010 Atlético Madrid played Barcelona at home and lost 1-2 with De Gea making seven saves in the match. On the 7th November 2010, De Gea’s 20th birthday, he would play Real Madrid away seeing his side lose 2-0 but he made 11 saves in that match. The Barcelona La Liga match at the Nou Camp on the 5th February 2011 would see Atlético Madrid lose 3-0 but De Gea made five saves and the Madrid derby at home on the 19th March 2011, Atlético Madrid lost 1-2 but De Gea made six saves.

During the 2010/11 season De Gea made a total of 46 appearances and made an astonishing 180 saves in all competitions. Atlético Madrid finished fifth in La Liga, made it to the round of 32 in the Copa del Rey but more importantly won the UEFA Europa League winning their group and beating Lazio 4-1 (agg), Beşiktaş 6-1 (agg), Hannover 96 4-2 (agg), Valencia 5-2 (agg) in the knockout stages before beating Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in the final.

When De Gea signed for United in July 2011 I was over the moon that the goalkeeper I had been watching in La Liga was actually coming to United. Yes he had a hard start and mad a few errors, which has caused people to judge him, even United supporters say he’s not good enough. The British press seem to think he is a liability, but that is just because he plays for United!

Yesterday at the press conference ahead of tonight’s match, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson gave the impression that he has his weight behind De Gea, he said:

“David has shown his character because he has taken a lot of criticism and sometimes unfair criticism. What we’re good at is developing people. Bit by bit it’s a like a young kid moving forward – he wobbles, gets up, wobbles, gets up again and now he’s walking.”

I think David De Gea will thrive in the match tonight. He has plenty of experience in how Real Madrid play and is certainly agile enough to help United through the 180 minutes of football which stands between them and a place in the Quarter finals of the UEFA Champions League.

By Paul Bienkowski

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