It was only a matter of months after David De Gea’s move to Manchester United in 2011 that the goalkeeper first came under fire, critics complaining about a goal conceded against West Brom on his Premier League debut, Shane Long’s shot squeezing under the young Spaniard. It was an inauspicious start but confirms how far De Gea has come since then to be named man of the match in Sunday’s win over Liverpool.
De Gea picked up the prize for his clean sheet, winning out over goal scorers Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata, or Michael Carrick, the midfielder-turned-defender who entered a composed performance in the United backline. De Gea, who also earned EuroFantasyLeague
Seconds before Rooney gave United the lead, Raheem Sterling had a golden chance to put Liverpool in front. The winger’s shot was tame but still needed to be saved and De Gea did so. An Antonio Valencia run and cross later and Rooney was firing powerfully past Brad Jones at the other end. It was a Sliding Doors moment.
De Gea’s contribution could have been forgotten in the celebratory chaos that greeted Rooney’s goal but thanks to numerous other stops, it’s instead regarded as the first of many, his inspirational performance the building block of a famous victory. Sterling was denied time and time again and Mario Balotelli’s search for a first Liverpool league goal was prolonged too. Short of popping up at the other end and scoring himself, there’s little more De Gea could have done to deliver three points.
Three years ago, though, De Gea was something of a laughing stock. Problems dealing with high balls into the penalty area led to Anders Lindegaard taking over and the £18m signing from Atletico Madrid was benched. There were further flaps after De Gea returned to the starting XI but they were increasingly rare. As United changed – managers, twice, and rapidly overhauled the squad, losing veterans Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra – De Gea became a reliable constant.
Having looked overwhelmed by the enormous stage on which he was now playing, De Gea now fills every inch of the Old Trafford goal. He has the crucial ability to make himself look big in front of a striker baring down on goal and the reflexes to get down, up or over to any shot, best exemplified with his startling saves as United held on to beat Everton earlier in the season.
De Gea arrived at United as the direct replacement for Edwin van der Sar and at international level, he is the designated successor to Iker Casillas. Between them, van der Sar and Casillas have over 1500 club appearances, a few hundred international caps, a dozen league titles in three different countries and winners’ medals from the Champions League, European Championships and the World Cup. And De Gea is their successor. He has come far since August 2011 and has far left to go, but there’s no stopping him now.