This is becoming a regularity. When Manchester United face a team that will challenge the club winning trophies there are certain players who up their performance.
For over two decades the likes of Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Cristiano Ronaldo knew that they had to become the protagonist on the pitch. Fans expected fight and determination from their star players, with the importance of the result playing on their minds for weeks in advance at times.
Last week United took part in one of those games at The Emirates. Even though Arsenal away is not the fixture it once was, when Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger battled it out for the Premier League title every year, there was no doubt that the result would be significant in the shape of this year’s season.
Nine times out of ten the home side would’ve triumphed in the match, with Arsenal hitting the target 15 times. Yet they only scored one goal, due to the brilliance of De Gea in goal.
The expectation going into the Manchester derby, with City already eight points clear of their neighbours, was that Pep Guardiola’s side would dominate possession at Old Trafford, having averaged over 60% this season.
The fact that City had won every away game this campaign made it doubly difficult. De Gea knew that he had to perform at his best for United to have a chance of achieving a result.
By the halfway stage of the first 45 minutes, it was clear that the Spaniard would stand up to the challenge, with a brilliant one-handed reflex stop to deny Leroy Sane from close range a sign of the type of player that De Gea has now evolved into.
Unfortunately for him, there was nothing that the goalkeeper could do to prevent David Silva from opening the scoring. The same tale applies to that of Nicolas Otamendi’s second half poke, leaving the man in black stunned and shell-shocked.
This was not Arsenal. Yet even at 2-1 down De Gea consistently kept United in the match, most spectacularly from a powerful Kevin De Bruyne effort.
As United pressed, gaps opened up in the centre of the pitch and City attacks became more fluent. De Gea’s positioning meant they could not materialise into an effective transition.
Not many United fans could’ve predicted that they would find a goalkeeper who would rival Peter Schmeichel. They can now believe it.