As Manchester United crashed out of the FA Cup against Liverpool on Saturday, accusatory eyes looked around for someone to blame.
Whilst some chided Evans for allowing Andy Carroll to knock the ball on to Dirk Kuyt (realistically few defenders would have been able to stop him), Patrice Evra was horribly out of position and it was this that allowed Kuyt to race through and send Liverpool into the FA Cup 5th round.
But for some reason another player came in for heavy criticism not only after but during the game.
David De Gea’s first season at Old Trafford has been a monumental struggle thus far. Being Manchester United’s #1 is arguably one of the toughest jobs in the game. It is a huge position that comes with great history and with two of our more recent keepers amongst the best to play football, it was always going to be hard for De Gea to match up.
The number of people that have flourished in the position is massively out shadowed by those who have wilted under the pressure and having joined for a large fee, De Gea was always going to face heavy scrutiny.
De Gea, like his opponent for the starting position Anders Lindegaard, had a solid pre season but alarm bells began to ring after errors in United’s season openers against Man City and West Brom. From then on De Gea picked up the title of a dodgy keeper and unfairly it has stuck since.
First people thought shooting from distance could get the better of him but he showed Dzeko’s goal in the Community Shield was a one off mistake and this quickly stopped, then people begane putting him under pressure from crosses and corners and although he initially weather this storm, doubts began to creep back in after the Blackburn game.
De Gea and Lindegaard have shared the starting spot this season and after his display against Blackburn on New Years Eve, De Gea took a backseat to his Danish team mate.
Some have argued that we should persist with De Gea, mistakes and all, as he is going to be our keeper in the long run and even more so after Lindegaard had a shaky showing against Man City but we continued with Lindegaard, so the question must be raised; why was De Gea thrown in against Liverpool?
The move seems quite random considering he had been warming the bench for the previous 4 games.
With a big striker like Andy Carroll up front and the Blackburn game in mind, Liverpool’s tactics from set pieces were apparent from the off, they stuck Carroll on De Gea in an attempt to un nerve him and when Daniel Agger opened the scoring on the 21st minute it came as a result of De Gea allowing Carroll to occupy his attention.
Whilst no defenders rose to challenge Agger, De Gea was too busy pushing Carroll out of the way, thus the Dane’s header simply bobbled off his head and into the back of the net.
Whilst disappointed with the goal I was more alarmed as to what happened next.
Anders Lindegaard began to warm up amidst rumours that De Gea had strained something and whilst this may have actually been the case, it looked very much like the young Spaniard was seeking a way out after the error.
In boxing there is something called ‘taking away your opponent’s jab’. If he throws it and you are quick enough to counter it, he will simply neglect the punch as he realises it allows an opening for himself to be. You have thus caused him to abandon the most important punch in the sport.
This would have been the equivalent of De Gea allowing opponents to take away his jab, allowing others to discourage him from doing his job. Whilst Liverpool focused on him, had he gone off it would have been infinitely worse as the season progressed. People already deem him as physically weak, but to show a mental weakness would have simply compounded the problem.
Thankfully he stayed on but it was obvious nerves had got the better of him, a simple clearance that could have given Liverpool the lead preceded a dropped catch that lead to a corner and ultimately being beaten at his near post by Kuyt for the winner.
United knew what they were getting into when buying a talented but young keeper in De Gea last summer and so did the fans, anyone that thought he would be the finished article now should probably get their head checked. So whilst we should have expected teething problems, now they have arisen it is a case of where do we go from here?
United, unlike other teams, aren’t afforded the luxury of bedding players in. Due to the size of the club and our ambitions every game is a cup final. Woe betide the players if they lose a game, as the press and some fans will have the knives out, declaring the team not good enough and that Fergie is losing it.
When confident, De Gea is a good goalkeeper but you imagine he isn’t feeling anything like confident at the moment.
De Gea hasn’t had the luxury of a settled defence in front of him due to injuries thus hasn’t been able to benefit from a settled and in sync back line. Combine this with continually being blamed by press and fans alike, being dropped then thrown into an intense game like the one on Saturday only to be blamed for the loss and you realise he will take some building up.
Roy Keane alluded to him having to nail someone in the air when claiming a ball in order to change people’s perception about how to deal with him and whilst Roy is the kind of person capable of doing so, I feel David hasn’t got it in him (although I would love for him to do so).
In England it is dog eat dog and you are able to get away with a lot more than he is probably used to in La Liga. Having been here long enough he must realise that he may have to rough people up a bit, otherwise he faces having it done to him.
As well as confidence and mentality, it is obvious that he needs to develop physically.
De Gea is slight of frame thus people are able to bully him up in the air and in general, we saw it late on when he had a go at Andy Carroll who, despite having no chance of getting to a cross in the second half, jumped on De Gea’s back just to further unsettle him.
When he becomes physically more imposing you will see things like this decrease.
Ronaldo was a weedy teenager when he joined us and players took delight in kicking him all over the place, but as time went on he began to grown. He turned into a human tank and whilst people still tried to kick him, a lot of the time he would leave people bouncing off him.
At 6’4, De Gea is far from small, when his frame begins to fill out or he gets in the gym to bulk up I think we will see a different outcome when people try to put pressure on him.
“He’s just a unique talent.
“I first watched de Gea when he was representing Spain four years ago, before I was even associated with the club and it’s just something that you tick the box and say ‘one to look at’. So my first contact was when I saw at the Euro Under-17s which Spain happened to win.
“He’s suited to the way that we play and the way that we want to play.”
Whilst we have had glimpses of it, age, adaptation to a new club and country, the language barrier and a number of other reasons mean we haven’t seen the very best of him.
Since Saturday a number of players and people, including Sir Alex himself, have spoken out in his defence and rightly so.
We potentially have a star on our hands, he needs some work but I would advise against scraping him before he has the chance to prove so.