De Gea’s poor dis­play against Chelsea raises fur­ther ques­tions for Sol­sk­jaer

United goal­keeper’s de­cline has created a headache for the man­ager, with Romero and Hen­der­son wait­ing in wings

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Football - By James Ducker north­ern foot­ball cor­re­spon­dent

Why did the clanger feel so fa­mil­iar?

Be­cause we are see­ing that type of mis­take more and more of­ten from David De Gea.

Frank Lam­pard, the Chelsea man­ager, de­nied that he had en­cour­aged his play­ers to shoot from dis­tance at De Gea when­ever the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self. But the Spa­niard’s lack of con­cen­tra­tion and sus­pect han­dling as he al­lowed Mason Mount’s spec­u­la­tive shot to squirm past him were the con­tin­u­a­tion of a trou­bling theme.

Their ori­gins date back to June 2018, when De Gea fee­bly spilt a shot from Cris­tiano Ron­aldo in Spain’s 3-3 draw with Portugal at the World Cup, and there have been many sim­i­lar in­ci­dents since.

He gifted goals to Barcelona, Manch­ester City and Chelsea last sea­son af­ter fum­bling shots from Lionel Messi, Leroy Sane and An­to­nio Rudiger re­spec­tively, and did the same against Crys­tal Palace’s Pa­trick van Aan­holt ear­lier this term and Tot­ten­ham’s Steven Berg­wijn last month. And that is be­fore cheap er­rors against the likes of Arse­nal (twice), Ever­ton and Wat­ford are fac­tored in.

But did United not hand him a £375,000-a-week, four-year con­tract only last Septem­ber? They did, de­spite the clear warn­ing signs, and that is the rea­son they are now stuck with

De Gea.

Un­less United are pre­pared to start pay­ing an­other club an aw­ful lot of money for De Gea not to play for them – as they are do­ing with Alexis Sanchez at In­ter Mi­lan – or there hap­pens to be a side out there will­ing and able to cough up a for­tune for a cri­sis-torn goal­keeper in these fi­nan­cially trou­bled times, the Spa­niard is stay­ing put. Which makes this more about how Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer man­ages a po­ten­tially very ex­pen­sive prob­lem.

Sol­sk­jaer has other op­tions in goal, though, right?

He does. The ques­tion is if – and when – he chooses to en­list them. United face West Ham at Old Traf­ford know­ing vic­tory will go a long way to­wards se­cur­ing Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fi­ca­tion, and the clam­our for Ser­gio Romero to start ahead of De Gea has prob­a­bly never been so com­pelling.

Ar­guably the best back-up goal­keeper in Europe, Romero, Ar­gentina’s No1, has kept 38 clean sheets in 59 games for United since join­ing on a free trans­fer from Sam­p­do­ria in 2015, con­ced­ing just 21 goals in the process.

Is Dean Hen­der­son com­ing back to Old Traf­ford at the end of the sea­son, too?

Sol­sk­jaer has said he will sit down with Hen­der­son next month to dis­cuss the goal­keeper’s future af­ter two successful years on loan at Sh­effield United. Chris Wilder is ea­ger to loan Hen­der­son for a third sea­son and the 23-year-old has made it clear he has lit­tle in­ter­est in re­turn­ing to Old Traf­ford as a stand-in.

Sol­sk­jaer has al­ready ad­mit­ted he could not carry De Gea, Romero and Hen­der­son in the same squad next sea­son, so a big de­ci­sion looms. Does he give Hen­der­son his chance, or loan him for an­other sea­son to al­low him to gain more ex­pe­ri­ence out­side the Old Traf­ford pres­sure cooker, plac­ing his trust in Romero in the in­terim, or per­sist with De Gea?

Are con­cen­tra­tion and confidence De Gea’s only is­sues? No, even if they are the big­gest concerns. In goal­keep­ing terms, the game feels like it has moved on and De Gea has been left be­hind, in much the same way as seemed to hap­pen with Joe Hart at Manch­ester City. Sol­sk­jaer wants to play out from the back and that has ex­posed his No1’s poor dis­tri­bu­tion and lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Few re­main better at the in­stinc­tive re­flex save than De Gea, but even at his best he has never been one to com­mand his box aeri­ally.

If United ad­dress their goal­keeper prob­lem, do they have the foun­da­tions for a ti­tle chal­lenge?

If only it was that sim­ple. De Gea’s de­cline is a big headache for Sol­sk­jaer but there is good rea­son the United man­ager is in the mar­ket for an­other cen­tre-back, 12 months af­ter spend­ing £85 mil­lion on Harry Maguire. Vic­tor Lin­de­lof ’s lack of ag­gres­sion and poor po­si­tion­ing were again ev­i­dent in the way Olivier Giroud ran across him too eas­ily for Chelsea’s first goal on Sun­day, even if De Gea could have done better with his save. Maguire had a day to for­get, too, but the Eng­land de­fender has im­proved United’s de­fence and needs a part­ner with pace and pres­ence along­side him.

Er­ror-prone: David De Gea has had prob­lems for two years

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