For many, it seemed as if Manchester United had beaten Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. But for many others, it was David de Gea who had beaten Mauricio Pochettino’s spirited Spurs side at Wembley. It was the something only one goalkeeper in the world would ever do, but has done so many times in the past.
The most striking thing about De Gea and Manchester United though, was how comfortable and soothing it felt. It seemed as though a sense of normalcy had resumed. Like everything was so jolly even though Spurs were creating chance after chance in every minute. There was a certainty that they will not get the equalizer even if they keep playing till dawn and dusk. Even when United failed to defend everything, an air of inevitability hung around Wembley.
And that inevitability spoke for one thing: David de Gea’s invincibility. Everything that came at him was parried. Tottenham players like Harry Kane, Son Heung Min and Dele Alli- who would otherwise have scored three or four times on any other day, seemed resigned to not beating the Spaniard every single time. But what was even more surprising was how the 11 saves De Gea made wasn’t the best of his career. When he saved Kane’s free-kick, while it wasn’t too tough a save, everyone could read what was written in the stars.
Very few goalkeepers though, give an assurance like that. They can make a save or two in a game, but they can’t do what a striker often does in a game. They can’t win points for the side. Even if they can, they can’t do it the way De Gea does- with an aura of certainty and nonchalance. Every time De Gea kept Spurs out, he seemed so unfazed and unfluttered- as if nothing had happened and it was mere air that had tried to sting him.
Perhaps it is this game that proves to many, again, as to how good the Spaniard is and how good he can be on his day. While silencing critics hasn’t been a new thing for De Gea who had to silence a lot of those back in 2012, but the performance against the 3rd placed Spurs shows that on his best, De Gea is better than any other goalkeeper in the world and his best can win Manchester United games that teams would otherwise concede multiple goals in.
Following a below-par World Cup campaign, De Gea to many had become a shadow of what he was in the Premier League last season. It was felt that the likes of Ederson, Alisson and Kepa have passed him by because he had made a couple of errors. With Manuel Neuer still struggling to be at his best in the Bundesliga, a new best goalkeeper in the world is probably here now. With Alisson having done well for Liverpool and Ederson having emerged as someone who has similar traits as Neuer, there has been a feeling among many that De Gea isn’t the best anymore.
The way Alisson’s save late in the game against Napoli was celebrated was certainly well deserved. It was a good save- more down to Alisson’s impeccable positioning than reflexes, but one big save never makes any goalkeeper the best in the world. Fast forward to the Brazilian’s game against Man United, he handed Jesse Lingard a goal on the plate.
Although it will be fair to say that not every goalkeeper will have a bad defense in front of him and De Gea is lucky to have that, but not every goalkeeper can keep more clean-sheets than any other Premier League goalkeeper since 2011. De Gea’s saves and impressive reflexes have come to the fore because of a shoddy defense over the last three seasons, but you can’t take away the fact that what happened against Tottenham can’t happen twice or thrice every season.
But for De Gea, it has happened twice or thrice every season. He might not have had a spotless season by any standards this season, but he himself is the man who has set those standards that high. And they are standards no goalkeeper has succeeded in setting. Neuer has, but he has faded since that big knee injury and he’s no way near his best.
Many raised question marks about De Gea’s ability for how he performed in the one-month World Cup period and because of that, many felt it was justified if he wasn’t included in the FIFA The Best Team of the Year. Its a given that the World Cup wasn’t his best and he wasn’t as good as he should have been on a global stage, but it should not take shine of what he has done for Manchester United. That too on a consistent basis when they were always on the edge of disaster.
One thing that defined everything was Harry Kane’s expressionless gesture after one of the misses. It seemed destined. And he knew that. It had become so much of a habit that the World Cup Golden Boot winner had given up trying to beat De Gea. Everything seemed routine for the man, even if it required him to do something extra. Its because De Gea is used to doing extra-ordinary things. He’s set his standards so high that a little error makes many feel he isn’t of that standard. But that’s what the best attract: haters and critics that are proved wrong with passing time.