Amid calls for David de Gea to be sold, dropped or made to walk from London to Manchester (Roy Keane) it has not been an easy season for the Spaniard.
Yet if you had told us beforehand that this would be the season De Gea sets a personal clean sheet record at Manchester United, you would assume it would be a pretty good season individually.
Not really though. When United’s player of the year awards take place, De Gea’s name won’t even be in the conversation.
Which itself sounds jarring, because he has won the Sir Matt Busby Award four times during his Manchester United career.
Can’t get away from the errors
De Gea’s season was an ugly one for mistakes. There were real shockers away at Watford and Everton, and similarly poor errors in the FA Cup against Chelsea, at home to Crystal Palace, and away at Tottenham.
There was plenty of blame to go around after Southampton’s late equaliser at Old Trafford too, with De Gea seen as struggling to command his box defending a corner at a critical moment in the game.
There were good moments too. His display away at Manchester City in the 1-0 Carabao Cup second leg win was particularly impressive.
He kept a clean sheet on the final day of the season against Leicester, but looked shaky in doing so early on, spilling a shot right into Jamie Vardy’s path, before recovering.
One of the reasons De Gea has stood out previously and won individual awards is that he has been badly exposed by a poor defence. He has needed superhuman efforts to keep United afloat at times.
This season the team have conceded only 36 Premier League goals, in comparison to 54.
The defensive improvement Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have brought to the team should not be underestimated, and this has helped carry De Gea to a clean sheet record.
This is not to wipe out De Gea’s positive contribution towards his clean sheet record himself. Maguire and Wan-Bissaka don’t save the shots, but without them, the Spaniard would have had an even tougher season than the one he has just endured.
So what next?
De Gea is likely to be sat on the sidelines for the Europa League as Sergio Romero gets a well deserved chance.
The Spaniard is still a good goalkeeper and is unlikely to make as many individual errors next season as he has done this year.
Unless a big bid comes in for him this summer, De Gea is likely to stay at United another season as number one, with Dean Henderson loaned out.
There is certainly a case for Henderson to stay, but we just don’t see United making that change this year.
De Gea will be well aware of the need to improve, and he will be motivated by setting his best ever Premier League clean sheet record. It will give him confidence at a time he really needs it.
The chance to star for Spain at Euro 2021 will also be a matter of personal motivation for him.
De Gea owes his new teammates a ‘thank you’, but in previous years it has been the goalkeeper who has bailed out his underperforming defenders.
If he can get back to his previous levels next season, and United become even more clinical in attack, then the defensive improvement shown this season has the potential to provide a title chasing platform.
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