Man Utd’s De Gea has improved but may never thrive in the Premier League

David De Gea is likely to line up for Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, but there is no guarantee. Sir Alex Ferguson is happy to rotate his goalkeepers at present, so maybe it will be De Gea, or maybe Anders Lindegaard will be given the nod. This cannot be what Ferguson had in mind when he parted with £18m for the Spanish stopper a couple of summers ago.

Ahead of United’s recent trip to Newcastle, Ferguson explained to the Daily Mail that De Gea is “an outstanding goalkeeper” that is “getting better all the time.” He then added that: “I don’t know whether I should play him on Sunday (against Newcastle) or not. Obviously at some stage one of them will take over if he shows a real consistency in top-level performance and he has shown a maturity.

This uncertainty may create fierce competition amongst the pair as they compete to be first choice. It is more likely to prove unsettling, behind a back four that is also radically different on a weekly basis. The only surprising aspect regarding recent claims that De Gea may be keen on a return to Spain is that it has taken so long for the suggestion to materialise. With regards to rotation and recent performances, De Gea recently revealed that: “I am working flat-out every day because I need to regain the confidence of the coach. I don’t believe I have been at the top in the last couple of months but with each game I am rediscovering my level.” He added: “I accept the manager’s decision. If he considers Anders (Lindegaard) as No 1 it is not a problem for me I only want to play and maintain my challenge for the position.

De Gea’s quality is undoubted. His positioning, agility and reflexes are exceptional. He has also improved in dealing with crosses, but certain fundamental weaknesses remain. Some will attribute his lack of aura and authority to his relative lack of experience and youth, but there is no guarantee that this will develop with age and experience. Some have it, some do not. In the same vein, he may not be a big enough character to thrive as a Manchester United goalkeeper. Plenty have failed to fulfil the required criteria over the years, the pressure and expectations are intense.

Circumstances also appear to be against him. Nemanja Vidic missed most of last season and is injured once again, while Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are also long-term absentees. Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra appear to be on the wane, while the United midfield lacks ball winners and a dominant physical presence. He also has the unenviable task of replacing Edwin van der Saar, while learning a new language and adapting to a new culture.

De Gea turns 22 next month and time is certainly on his side. Although he has shown signs of improvement, he is still no closer to becoming an automatic choice. Ferguson has shown patience, but history suggests that his patience will eventually run out if his high standards are not met. Like Gerard Pique before him, De Gea may find that his potential may be better suited and eventually realised back in his native Spain.

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