Manchester United have had a fairly solid start to the league campaign this season, earning four victories and one draw in the opening five fixtures, the only defeat coming most recently against Aston Villa.
It’s fair to say a large amount of the strong early league form can be attributed to United’s long-term number one goalkeeper David De Gea, who seems to have had an upturn in form since his disappointing performance in the Europa League Final.
The Spaniards missed kick in the Europa League Final penalty shootout almost looked to be a final nail in the coffin for De Gea, as his form had been declining for a few seasons while a new hungry challenger in the form of Dean Henderson had been emerging. However, it seems that the Goalkeeper has dusted himself off and returned much sharper so far in the new season.
De Gea, who was signed from Atletico Madrid for £18.9 million back in 2011, has made 448 appearances for the Red Devils since his difficult start to life at United all those years ago. When De Gea arrived, there were questions about his stature and whether he was able to deal with the intensity and physicality of the Premier League. It seemed these fears were coming to fruition, as the Spaniard struggled on multiple instances in his United careers infancy.
Despite this, Sir Alex Ferguson’s faith was repaid as De Gea has gone on to become one of the most legendary Goalkeepers to ever play for United. His incredible performances across seasons past have been vital to so many United games, earning him the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award a record breaking four times.
Across all of his time at United, De Gea’s loyalty has never really come into question, aside from a feverish Real Madrid interest in the player, De Gea has remained committed both off and on the pitch.
All of this being said, one may struggle to see why De Gea wouldn’t automatically remain number one this season and for the foreseeable future, however performances from the Goalkeeper have not quite reached his high standards of years gone by. De Gea has struggled from 2018 onwards to be consistently top quality, having let in a few clangers and looking vulnerable from set pieces at times.
In spite of this, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has stuck by the shot stopper, frequently still citing him as the best goalkeeper in the world still. Under Solskjaer, De Gea has had moments of inspired form though, especially in a dominant Goalkeeping display against Tottenham in a 1-0 victory back in 2019 at Wembley, proving he can still reach the level he once was.
Over the course of the last five years De Gea has fought off challenges from the likes of Sergio Romero and Dean Henderson to retain his number one status, although it seemed that as of late the declining overall form and emergence of talented Henderson may finally jeopardise that. Henderson is a tremendous prospect at United, still only 24 years of age and possessing bags of ambition, he looks set to be the future of United’s goal.
However, how fast that future arrives is up in the air, De Gea looks to have dramatically upped his game this season as a response to the challenging Henderson. The Englishmen has shone when replacing De Gea, so it seemed as though he may have started the season as number one, but a bout of Covid left the door open for the veteran Spaniard to retain his place with impressive performances so far this season.
De Gea has had some wonderful distribution at times this season and was the hero against Wolves with an incredible double save to ensure United left with all three points. Additionally, the stoppage time save of Mark Noble’s penalty against West Ham looks to have cemented De Gea’s return to form and established position as number one.
Whether this form continues is up for debate, but the player has talked about taking more responsibility and becoming a leader of the team. Solskjaer was impressed with De Gea’s drive to return to United training early during the summer, and it looks like that determination and work may have paid off.
It’s going to be a long season for United, with many games and several competitions to play in, so naturally rotation with Henderson will happen. One thing that is clear though is De Gea’s ambition to remain as number one, and it seems he may have had a necessary resurgence to not just achieve this, but United’s overall growing ambition to win major trophies.
Written by Sam Wilson