Written by Training Ground Guru — August 16, 2022
FORMER England goalkeeper Rob Green says Manchester United’s reliance on David De Gea is “bizarre” and illustrates muddled thinking at the club.
The Spaniard was clearly at fault for Brentford’s first goal in their 4-0 win over United on Saturday, when he fumbled a Josh Dasilva shot into his own net. He also played a part in the Bees’ second goal, when he passed short to Christian Eriksen, who was then dispossessed by Mathias Jensen.
De Gea, 31, was United’s Players' Player of the Year for 2021/22 and is under contract to next June, with the option of a one-year extension. However, Green said he has neither the range of passing nor the ability to play higher up the pitch that new manager Erik Ten Hag requires.
With a lack of alternative options - Dean Henderson is on loan at Nottingham Forest and 36-year-old Tom Heaton is De Gea's understudy - United could now be in a fix. Former Premier League keeper Green contrasted United's situation with that at Liverpool, who have Alisson in goal, and at Manchester City, who have Ederson.
“You look at Alisson and Ederson - they are the two teams that have completely changed around signing a goalkeeper,” Green (pictured above, left) told BBC Radio 5 Live. “That is because they can utilise the whole of the pitch and are a threat in behind with the straight, flat, quick ball (from the goalkeeper).
“David De Gea doesn’t have that; not many keepers do have that. I never had it. You just physically can’t kick it as hard and as flat and you just have better passers. That’s pure facts.
“Yes he (De Gea) has strengths, but that’s not one of them. (Brentford midfielder) Christian Norgaard put it really well - ‘we went man to man on goal kicks.’ You do that against Manchester City, you get punished in behind. You see Arsenal do it with (Aaron) Ramsdale - he hits it long and Jesus is onto it now. That intensity is there.
“You can’t have that with David De Gea, because he just hasn’t got that strike. I played with (Brentford defender) Pontus Jansson at Leeds - he’s scared of running backwards, he doesn’t want to come back towards me. He wants to go and dominate and head the ball forwards and be on top of players and they were playing into their hands with that.
“That then leads to you playing pretty much in your own half for the whole of the game, because you’re making it a keep-ball game and slowly you will get out of your half. Then you don’t get up as a goalkeeper, then you don’t get out of the box, then you’re not up in the opposition half a lot. It’s a really vicious cycle.
“It seems a really strange proposition that you have David De Gea as your one goalkeeper. You’ve got Tom Heaton there who’s a fantastic keeper over the years, but would not be considered as a Manchester United first choice.
“They’re only starting with two and it seems a bizarre position to be in. Again, they haven’t really thought about it.”
The stats illustrate this difference in style between De Gea and the likes of Alisson and Emerson. Last season (when De Gea started every Premier League game for United), they were bottom of the league for passes attempted by their keeper, with 614 (stats from FBREF, powered by StatsBomb).
They were joint bottom for number of defensive actions outside of the penalty area by the keeper (nine) and second bottom for passes completed of more than 40 yards (139, compared to Brentford’s 349).
Also, De Gea played much closer to his own goal than the majority of his Premier League counterparts. He was an average of 13.6 yards from goal when performing a defensive action, compared to 17.3 yards for Ederson and 18 yards for Alisson.
Green said he thought it was strange that United had allowed Henderson to go on a season-long loan to Forest - although he wasn’t sure that the 25-year-old was the long-term answer in any case.
"They felt like they probably had to make a decision (about allowing Henderson to leave) and they’ve made one. It just seems now, with the way Ten Hag is playing, like a strange one.
“I don’t think he (Henderson) is up there with Ederson and Alison but not many are. That’s why they’re as brilliant and coveted as they are.”