Manchester United sit a comfy 12 points above the rest of the Barclays Premier League, are in the 5th round of the FA Cup, and just pulled off an improbable tie away at Real Madrid. There has been a variety of reasons for their success this season, from the offensive prowess of Robin van Persie, to the return of injured skipper Nemanja Vidic, and the emergence of goal keeper David De Gea.
Recently, the 22-year-old De Gea has received some of the most most venomous criticism in the English media due to his vulnerability with crosses and balls in the air. A lot of the criticism is warranted due to some poor efforts that have led to easy goals. The BPL is known as the best and most physical league in the world and when De Gea was bought by United before the 2011/2012 season, there was concern of whether he could adjust to the hieghtened coming from the Spanish La Liga. His performances were understandably up and down, however, over the past few months the keeper has matured into a world class goalie.
He might not be the best in the air, but his shot-stopping ability is second to none. When United’s defense was torn apart last year due to injuries and lack of experience, De Gea was one of the reasons they remained in the chase for the Premier League title. Acrobatic save after acrobatic save kept the Red Devils alive in crucial games. Even though they lost to bitter rivals Manchester City on the final day of the season to goal differential, he showed promising signs of things to come.
United started the season with an abysmal defensive record, allowing other teams to score first and playing catch up in the majority of their games. De Gea was benched at the beginning of this season, after a few lackluster performances, which were compounded by the poor play of his defense. We will never know if it was a true benching, or one of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s mind tricks to get the keeper back on track. When De Gea returned, he had a new mind set and confidence. This was around the same time captain Nemanja Vidic started playing regularly again and since the end of November, United is undefeated in the BPL with 5 clean sheets (12-2-0).
Last week in Madrid, De Gea showed how far he has come since he arrived to Manchester nearly two years ago. He was born and raised in Madrid and joined Real Madrid’s rivals, Atlético Madrid, at the age of ten. He learned his trade constantly in the shadow of his glorious neighbors. Last night was the first time he has played at Real Madrid in front of family in friends as part of the biggest club in the world, and at the age of 22, he did not disappoint.
If Manchester United advances past Real Madrid, another super power in the world of soccer, they will owe a lot of it to their young keeper. De Gea displayed a world class effort against Los Blancos at the Bernabeu. He saved the game from what could have been 3 or 4 goals for Real to a 1 goal tie. The second match will be back at home at Old Trafford and could help begin the young Spaniard’s legacy.
The season is far from over and De Gea needs to continue to progress and develop. If United are able to win two, or maybe even three titles this year, some of the critics will jump on the De Gea bandwagon. The critics won’t be the only ones to join; the Red Devil’s faithful have had a hard time accepting him due to some of his mistakes and the constant disapproval in the media.
However, in the world of sports you’re only as good as your last game, and if De Gea fails to perform in a few games this season, he be back where he started, watching from the sidelines.