It was another game and yet another unwanted moment in the spotlight for Manchester United’s David De Gea last night.
The back pages may not have poured the sort of scorn the Spaniard was subjected to in the light of his performance against Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month, but his part in Southampton’s first-half opener has done little to dampen the question marks over his long-term suitability for the number one jersey at Old Trafford.
Although it’s worth noting the key element in that passage is that De Gea did indeed only play a part within Jay Rodriguez’s third minute opener. Michael Carrick’s diabolical back pass would usually be enough to see him take the full-brunt of responsibility had he been playing in front of any other goalkeeper in this league.
De Gea’s current media profile however, ensured that Carrick’s blushes have been relatively spared.
Of course, United’s much-maligned ‘keeper didn’t exactly shower himself in glory with his meek attempt at a 50/50 challenge, although ultimately, he was put in an impossible position by yet another spot of calamitous defending by the rest of his teammates. And it’s this exaggerated sense of defensive responsibility that De Gea seems to be shouldering, which seems dreadfully out of proportion with the bigger overall picture at Old Trafford.
Having shipped in a total of 31 goals so far this season, only Steve Clarke’s West Bromwich Albion have conceded more in the Premier League’s top eleven. The fact they manage to sit seven points clear of Manchester City having conceded a staggering 12 more goals is testament to their outstanding array of attacking talent.
The musings of how well this United side would have fared without Robin van Persie may seem tired, but given their sorry state of affairs defensively this season, it’s become verging on the impossible to argue with that sentiment.
Yet although the concept might seem unattainable to some, it’s also worth noting where United might be in this table had David De Gea not been around. Because while the lynch-mob were happy to descend upon the Spaniard following his poor punch which gifted Clint Dempsey the recent equalizer at White Hart Lane, the plaudits weren’t exactly queuing up to congratulate him on his top class-save from the American earlier on in the half.
In one respect, he may well have cost Manchester United a point, yet he ultimately still saved them two.
And until the wider, more gloomy defensive picture is acknowledged and then addressed at Old Trafford, it’s difficult to see when the stinging critique aimed towards De Gea is going to stop.
So far this season, we’ve seen Patrice Evra lauded in many quarters for having one of his best seasons yet at Old Trafford. Ferguson himself has recently gone on record claiming that Rio Ferdinand has enjoyed a great season while also lauding Rafael’s maturing process and Nemanja Vidic is readily seen to be their returning defensive white knight.
Now part of Ferguson’s managerial aptitude is to protect his players from criticism and you’re unlikely to seem him give his back four a public rollicking, despite his side’s woeful defensive record. But it seems somewhat bizarre that public opinion seems to be looking so favorably upon the rest of United’s defensive unit, yet so menacingly upon its goalkeeper.
For however fine the likes of Evra, Ferdinand or even Jonny Evans may have performed individually at times this season, collectively, they’re not enjoying a good season at all. And ultimately, it’s David De Gea who seems to be paying the price.
For any goalkeeper of any age or ability, the circumstances that De Gea had to work under last term were about as difficult as he could have possibly hoped for from his debut season. Instead of walking into a solid, stable and reliable back four, De Gea formed part of an-ever shifting plateau of defensive instability, shorn of its best stopper in Nemanja Vidic and plagued by a perpetual habit of leaking cheap goals.
One season later, and the only thing that really seems to have changed are the further amounts of criticism that David De Gea seems to be taking. United are still leaking cheap goals, at an even more alarming rate than they did last season, but the emphasis continues to be focused upon making De Gea a scapegoat.
Does the amount of points he may have saved his side account for the ones he has also cost United? It’s difficult to say, but considering Ferguson’s side are only two goals short of the amount they conceded for the entirety of last season, those thinking a change in-between the sticks would represent an instant remedy are dreadfully mistaken.
David De Gea’s not been without his faults, although since his move to Old Trafford, he’s hardly been cultivated within a defensive unit that inspires much in the way of confidence.
The blame that’s been thrown his way is grossly out of proportion to the current state of defensive affairs at Manchester Untied and although the levels of expectation at the club allow little for some of the basic errors De Gea has been guilty of, that level also expects far more of the four men that currently sit in front of him, too.
There are no easy answers or shortcuts to be taken when addressing Manchester United’s defensive issues, but using David De Gea as a scapegoat is a measure of convenience rather than one that’s likely to fix their problems anytime soon. It’s time for the rest of his defensive counterparts to stand up and take responsibility – because there’s only so long De Gea can last in the firing line.