David de Gea’s fall from grace has been one of the biggest headlines that dominated the world of football over the past two years.
Once seen as an indispensable part of Manchester United and the Spanish national side, the shot-stopper is no longer the fan favourite at Old Trafford. His shaky performances at the United goal have called for scrutiny over his £375,000 per week contract.
This should feel quite odd when you look at De Gea’s shot-stopping numbers.
He has prevented 9.1 goals more than expected, according to xG numbers. But his lacking in other departments undermines his profile as a modern goalkeeper.
We would first point out his hesitation to come off the line. In the 21/22 season, he managed to collect only seven of the 195 crosses that flew into the United box. He was second from the bottom among Premier League goalkeepers on this list. His struggles in the air have led to an additional xG of 1.71 against United last season.
De Gea is also reluctant to leave his mark and neutralise the threat.
His inadequate sweeping abilities have cost United an xG of 0.88 in 21/22. Because of his poor performances in these metrics, Spain’s national team boss Luis Enrique chose to omit the goalkeeper from Spain’s provisional World Cup squad that featured five keepers.
The role of goalkeepers has changed drastically over the years.
Manuel Neuer was seen as an anomaly for his sweeper-keeper role at Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola. However, that has become the norm for goalkeepers at the moment. Modern coaches expect the goalkeeper to play a vital part in the distribution and build-up, besides preventing opposition goals.
The current Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, is a proponent of aggressive pressing, like most of his top club peers.
He wants his defensive line to be high to compress the area of ball competition on the pitch. This leaves acres of space behind the defence, which needs to be patrolled by a keeper who is comfortable coming off his line.
Under such a system, the goalkeeper must also be good with the ball on his feet.
Since the defending team goalkeeper can’t charge up high when the attacking team is trying to build from the back, getting the goalkeeper involved creates a 11vs10 situation in the outfield.
This is crucial for any team trying to dominate possession. For this reason, Arsenal and Manchester City, the two teams currently at the top of the Premier League table, have keepers who can easily spray the ball with their nifty footwork across the pitch.
In such a system, the goalkeeper faces fewer sets as it minimizes the goalscorig opportunities for opposition sides. Which undercuts the importance of shot stopping for a goal keeper.
So, David de Gea have to make significant improvements in other departments to have a long-term future at Manchester United under Erik ten Hag.