Manchester United defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 last Saturday, in a match which once again encapsulated the team’s plans for the future. The Devils had no issues to beat a team which often struggled away from home this season, creating a multitude of chances to get a comfortable win. In the end, the second goal of the match came only in the stoppage time thanks to Alejandro Garnacho, with United squandering too many good goalscoring opportunities throughout the previous 90 minutes. And that should be yet another clear signal to Erik Ten Hag and especially the owners, whoever that may be come the summer transfer window.
But this match also showed United’s conundrum with David De Gea. The Spaniard kept a clean sheet, which was his 16th of the season, meaning he officially won the Premier League Golden Glove Award for most kept clean sheets throughout the campaign. De Gea did not have to make a single save in this match since Wolves did not have a shot on target, but there is a further problem with this award – it should not be a call for the club to offer a new contract to the Spaniard based on the award he won. The Golden Glove award, this season probably more than some previous ones, proved to be an award which is not enough to evaluate modern goalkeepers at top European clubs anymore.
Modern goalkeepers are expected to do more than just be good at shot-stopping. And shot-stopping is usually the only thing De Gea is most of the time not being criticised for. Still, that may have been the case in some of the previous seasons, since this campaign, the Spaniard is making 70% of saves on all shots going on target. While that is not too bad, it is still worse than Kepa Arrizabalaga’s 74,3%, and he Kepa is a Chelsea goalkeeper in their worst season in the past 20 years.
But De Gea’s inability to play with his feet is something that should be of the greatest concern right now. For the way Ten Hag wants his team to play out from the back, he will need not only defenders to be comfortable with the ball at their feet, but his goalkeeper too. And there were numerous occasions this season where De Gea showed he simply cannot do those tasks without bringing the team in jeopardy, or putting the defenders in front of him under more pressure than they need be. De Gea does not have the qualities of modern sweeper keepers and even some of the more traditional aspects of the job he is not doing well – in fact, De Gea is stopping mere 3.2% of crosses into United’s box, which puts him among the worst in the league. Dean Henderson at Nottingham Forest, for example, is at 6.9% and is in 10th place among the Premier League goalkeepers.
The fact De Gea earned the Golden Glove award should not be looked at from a purely negative perspective, it is an award the entire team deserved. But it does not take into effect all the mistakes De Gea has made this season, the 0-7s and 3-6s against the biggest rivals and the fact his qualities are not what the Devils will need come next season.
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