David De Gea
Thank goodness for the fax machine would’ve been the common phrase around Old Trafford yesterday afternoon.
Two years ago, David De Gea was seemingly minutes away from heading to Real Madrid, but at the last moment the transfer collapsed, and United retained his services.
Ever since then the club has become indebted to the Spaniard’s goalkeeping ability, especially in critical junctures of a match where saves can suddenly change the dynamic of the game.
So perhaps this decision may be a surprise given the authoritative performances from Antonio Valencia, Nemanja Matic, and Marouane Fellaini, but let’s not forget in football that timing is paramount.
De Gea optimises the cool, calm and collective goalkeeper United need to challenge for a league title. There are moments in a match where you have to dig deep and protect a lead at all costs.
There are three obvious avenues to go down. The first is to make sure that you score again to head off into the horizon, the second for the defence to stand up and be counted for, and the third for the man between the sticks to protect the goal.
After Valencia’s early stunner it looked like United would ease to victory, but when Romelu Lukaku missed a one on one late in the first half a rejuvenated Everton capitalised and emerged as a new team in the second half.
With Gylfi Sigurðsson pulling strings as a playmaker and Wayne Rooney setting his sights up top, Everton knew they would have a good chance to avenge their last two defeats and prove a point at Old Trafford.
And in just under a minute after half time, they had looked to have done exactly that when Rooney burst past both Phil Jones and Eric Bailly into the box, only to see his left-footed punt rebound off De Gea’s right knee and fly out for a corner.
With Everton’s confidence growing, United became more frantic at the back, Matic tracking down targets, paranoid that the odd through ball would make it into his side’s box.
The pressure had become so great on the hour mark though that even he could not prevent Everton flushing forwards towards the Stretford End. And even United’s defence, who had withstood a torrent of pressure the ten minutes beforehand, were helpless when Jones’s misguided header fell into the path of Sigurðsson.
There’s an old saying that the best way to handle pressure is to apply it. It describes De Gea well. He has learned from his mistakes and is a better player because of it, so when Sigurðsson fired his effort towards the goal there was only going to be one winner, and that wasn’t going to be the Icelandic international.
De Gea’s presence in the nervy moments against Everton allowed the possibility for United to build on their 1-0 lead, fully well knowing that space would open up given the Toffees had to push on themselves.
And that’s what happened. In the 83rd minute, Henrik Mkhitaryan finally extended the Red Devils’ advantage, resulting in the opening of Everton’s floodgates. Physically and mentally they had collapsed.
Certain managers speak of their goalkeepers as players who can win you an extra ten or 15 points a season. De Gea is in that category, and his powerful presence emulates a granitic trust from his defence.
The Spaniard has now made 100 clean sheets for United, and so far this season he’s made the most in the Premier League (4).
It looks like a two horse race for the title. If he continues this form, then De Gea could tip the balance towards Old Trafford.