The Spaniard made a stunning save from Glenn Murray to come to the Red Devils’ rescue once again at Crystal Palace, with Marouane Fellaini grabbing the winner minutes later
Manchester United will almost certainly now return to the Champions League next season and they have no one to thank more than David De Gea, the goalkeeper who has got them off the hook on too many occasions to count.
Crystal Palace had lost three games in a row before this on fine margins, on decisions and moments that swung against them, and they suffered much the same fate here. The clock was just ticking over 70 minutes when De Gea showcased his capacity for the extraordinary, somehow clawing away Glenn Murray’s chipped shot from point-blank range with the rest of the defence around him at sea.
That was at 1-1. Within 10 minutes, United were back in front and goalkeeping, once again, was central. De Gea is not the most physical goalkeeper but when he rises for a cross, crowds almost appear to part beneath him. According to Opta, he had not dropped a thing all season. At the other end Julian Speroni flapped at Ashley Young’s high ball in a melee, and Marouane Fellaini headed into an empty net.
“[De Gea] probably prevented us winning the game,” Alan Pardew admitted. If Murray had scored, it is difficult to imagine there would have been a way back for United. Wayne Rooney had been substituted with a thigh injury, Radamel Falcao was struggling, Fellaini had been marked out of the game by Mile Jedinak and the crowd at Selhurst Park will get on top of you when given any opportunity.
*De Gea performance against Crystal Palace
“It’s a rhetorical question, I think,” Louis van Gaal said when asked about the quality of De Gea’s performance. “He made a great save at the most important moment because at that time Crystal Palace could score the second goal and then it shall be very difficult for us to come again in the match.”
But De Gea made the save, and now Liverpool will need to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tomorrow to keep their chase for fourth place alive. Brendan Rodgers has watched Simon Mignolet struggle in the early months of the season to the extent that Brad Jones was given three games in December, and though the Belgian has improved he is not the match winner De Gea has consistently proved.
Manchester United still lack leadership in defence and frequently turn over possession in their own half but they can be hit with a wake-up call and get away with it.
With every glance at the United bench, though, there is a reminder of the possibility no fan of the club will want to entertain. Victor Valdes has sat there all season, and the only action he tends to get is to return balls to De Gea when he is practising his kicking in the warm up. The goalkeeper of possibly the greatest club team of all time surely has not signed up for this role in the long term.
*David De Gea 2014-15 Premier League stats
Convincing De Gea to stick around for a rebuild that remains in its infancy will be difficult if Real Madrid, still fielding an under-par Iker Casillas, come calling. Memphis Depay is not a signing to take United back to the elite but the very beginning of that operation. Van Gaal chopped and changed his unsettled defence again, Michael Carrick is missed in midfield and Young and Fellaini, as well as they have played, can only take a team so far. Too many players are good, but not great.
De Gea is the only one who undeniably belongs in the latter category and might, at this point, be allowed to name his price on a new contract. As much surgery as this team still requires, Van Gaal could make no better summer signing.