A clean sheet away to Crystal Palace – whether it should’ve been one or not – means that David de Gea has become the goalkeeper with the joint-most Premier League clean sheets for Manchester United, equalling Peter Schmeichel’s record of 112.
The stat comes at a more apt time than ever and serves a reminder to football fans – and perhaps Manchester United fans too – that De Gea is an elite level goalkeeper, despite United’s struggles over the last few years.
While none of this would ever have happened at United if it weren’t for a painfully slow fax machine in Madrid in August 2015, De Gea’s loyalty to the club since that transfer saga cannot be criticised. In the time he’s spent as United’s saviour and only beacon of hope, he could quite easily have kicked up a fuss and forced a move away. On several occasions.
His slight dip in form has been noticeable over the last 12-18 months though, to the concern of many fans. With young academy prospect Dean Henderson rapidly improving and even earning shouts to be England’s number one, there have been many suggesting that United hang the Spaniard out to dry.
Losing faith in De Gea would be a huge error for United, despite how promising Henderson looks, and would do their Spanish shot stopper an injustice of the biggest kind. With over 400 United appearances and 142 total clean sheets, De Gea was the glue that held the club together in a disappointing era before the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Moving to Manchester as a quiet, baby-faced youngster in 2011, De Gea was hand-picked by Sir Alex Ferguson as the man to replace recently retired Edwin van der Sar. Sir Alex only ever missed three games during his iconic spell at United; one of those was to scout the Spaniard in person.
He started the 2011/12 season as United’s number one and immediately looked like a fish out of water. Bullied in his Premier League debut against West Brom, there were a number of significant weaknesses to the club’s goalkeeping prodigy, who carried tremendous responsibility from the get go.
Despite looking like a lost cause for a lot of the campaign, failing to command his box in games and seemingly struggling to adapt to life in England, De Gea did show glimpses of his talent. He saved a penalty from Robin van Persie in United’s 8-2 victory against Arsenal, and pulled off an incredible save to deny Juan Mata’s free kick that was headed for the top corner against Chelsea.
De Gea’s confidence grew in the following season when United won the Premier League – still his only league title. As Sir Alex left and things inevitably went downhill at the club, De Gea took charge, with his saves often bailing out a completely disjointed squad in front of him.
His double save against Everton in the 2013/14 season – you know, the campaign United fans collectively agree to forget happened – is still regarded as one of his finest ever stops. Suddenly, he looked more convincing and would grow into the club’s most valuable asset in a terrible campaign. He won the club’s Player of the Year award for the first time, and would go on to win it on a further three occasions.
His heroics in the 2017/18 season saw him pick up the Premier League’s golden glove for the first time in his career, with 18 clean sheets. That season, the Spaniard was unbeatable. Every game he played, he was guaranteed to pull off at least one world-class save.
His performance away to Arsenal in December 2017 was arguably his best to date. De Gea equalled a Premier League record as he made 14 saves to stop the Gunners from making a comeback, as United won 3-1. It left fans speechless, and resembled what a 2017 reboot of The Matrix would’ve looked like.
Since that season, things have perhaps soured a little bit. While most of his criticisms have come in more recent months, the truth is that De Gea’s performances have been slipping for a good year or so, at this point. While the rise of Henderson doesn’t seem to be helping his image, it could actually be a good thing.
Still just 29, the Spaniard has faced no real threats of losing his number one spot at United, thus complacency has set in. Bringing back a young and talented Henderson – who is chomping at the bit to take the reins from De Gea – back into the fold next season would keep the Spaniard on his toes, and likely bring him back to his best.
At this point, David de Gea has earned legend status at Manchester United. On paper and on the pitch he’s matched the performances of the greats who came before him with his razor-sharp reactions, and a wealth of Player of the Year and Team of the Year accolades back him up as one of the best goalkeepers in world football today, no matter what criticisms people have.