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
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
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