Manchester United: Why de Gea is part of the problem

For many Manchester United fans, David de Gea is their player of the season. But is he holding his team back?

by Jon Mackenzie

(Photo credit: Saul Tevelez)

“It’s no longer 10 field players and a goalkeeper. It’s, when the ball’s at the goalkeeper’s feet, 11 field players,” New York Red Bull’s goalkeeper Luis Robles says in an interview with FourFourTwo

“All that’s done is change my training tendencies, to really be involved as much as possible, to be able to play the ball out wide, in the middle, the long ball with my right foot, left foot. And this is vital for any young goalkeeper to understand, that the modern goalkeeper [has to be able to] play with the team.”

’Playing with the team’ is the opposite sentiment to the title of Jonathan Wilson’s book The Outsider which traces the history of goalkeepers within the modern game. And yet, through the narrative, Wilson traces an evolutionary shift occurs which sees the goalkeeper gradually reintegrated into the flow of the team.

To be a goalkeeper in the present day, then, is to be a team member. The question is: what overall effect does the goalkeeper have on the way his team play?

David de Gea’s Manchester United

This season, there are few Manchester United supporters who would deny that their goalkeeper David de Gea has been their star performer.

One only has to think back to the Spaniard’s performance against Arsenal at the Emirates or rewatch his save against Sevilla’s Luis Muriel in the Champions League to get a sense for why this might be the case.

In fact, it is de Gea’s shot-stopping that has given cause for the majority of the praise thrown his way. In the course of the Premier League season, the Spain international finds himself third on the list of saves in the season so far with 93, just behind Swansea City’s Lukasz Fabianski (101) and Stoke City’s Jack Butland (96). 

Interestingly though, the next closest top-six goalkeeper is Petr Cech in twelfth spot with 65 saves to his name. 

There is clearly something about the way that Manchester United play, then, that differentiates themselves from their rivals at the top of the Premier League.

The data

With Manchester United ceding a higher number of shots on target in a game than their neighbours in the top six, it should come as no surprise that de Gea is high in the table of Premier League goalkeepers for saves made.

However, there is another aspect of his game that matches him to mid-table keepers: his ability to distribute the ball. 

In the 2017/18 season, Sam Jackson of World in Motion analysed every goalkeeper in every game and rated their shot-stopping and distributive qualities before plotting them against one another on a graph.

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Jon Mackenzie

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