After a shaky start to his Manchester United career, young Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea has begun to justify the £18 million Sir Alex Ferguson spent on him.
All of these factors contributed to numerous goalkeepers failing in the task of replacing Peter Schmeichel when the Dane left in 1999. With varying degrees of success, Ferguson went through keepers such as Mark Bosnich, Massimo Taibi, Fabien Barthez, Roy Carroll and Tim Howard, before signing Edwin van der Sar in 2005. The Dutchman was already in his mid-thirties when he signed for the club, and for six years was the definition of composure at the back.
De Gea has come into United with the history of two of the game’s greatest goalkeepers in Schmeichel and van der Sar to compete with, but also to shake off the ghosts of the flops that precede him. The danger of being labelled a flop was very real for de Gea after a questionable debut performance in the Community Shield against Manchester City and a mistake in the league opener against West Brom.
However the Spaniard reacted well to keep a clean sheet against Tottenham, followed by a Robin van Persie penalty save against Arsenal with the score at 1-0 to United, and a number of quality stops against Chelsea including an agile point blank block to deny Ramires.
The upturn in form was halted over the Christmas period though, with de Gea at fault for two goals in a 3-2 home defeat against lowly Blackburn. This led to him being dropped in favour of Anders Lindegaard, who had performed well when drafted in, but then suffered an ankle ligament injury at the end of January.
In the nine league games since his recall against Liverpool in the FA Cup, de Gea has kept five clean sheets, and has not conceded in his last four matches. His confidence has swelled, and he is no longer a point of concern for United fans on the teamsheet.
On Monday night against Blackburn he pulled off three excellent saves to keep the score level. An athletic stop from Marcus Olsson came after a strong punch through a crowd of players, which was the exact situation in which he floundered in the reverse fixture. He also punched well against Fulham last week, and has been helped by the stability of a settled centre back pairing in Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand.
De Gea has had to learn quickly in the Premier League, but can only get better.
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