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On Saturday, Manchester United managed to record their first away win against a top six side for the first time under Jose Mourinho.
The 3-1 victory at The Emirates had plenty of talking points. United’s devastating counter attacks, Arsenal’s shaky backline who gave away two goals, Paul Pogba’s red card and the penalty that Danny Welbeck was wrongly denied. But the topic that will grab the headlines is David De Gea’s superb performance. The Spanish keeper made 14 saves during that game, joint best in a single Premier League match.
Jose Mourinho was full of praise for his man of the match and said it was a display of the best keeper in the world. De Gea’s second half double save to stop Alexander Lacazette’s strike and reaction to quickly stop the rebound with his foot was out of this world.
This isn’t the first time De Gea stepped up to Man United’s rescue. Earlier in the season he made an outstanding save from Joel Matip’s shot to help his team to a draw at Anfield. The shot was only from 6 yards out but Big Dave managed to stretch out his leg and keep the ball out.
His display on Saturday was reminiscent of his spectacular show at the Santiago Bernabéu when Sir Alex’s Man United played Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions league.
The 2013 game ended 1-1 and the Madrid native, who previously lost 5 consecutive games to Real, made plenty of stunning saves to keep out the record champions. His acrobatic save to deny Fábio Coentrão was unforgettable. That was the game that turned De Gea’s Man United career around and proved that he is among the best keepers in the world.
5 seasons later we ask the question: is he the best?
What makes De Gea so good are his reflexes. He always manages to parry away shots you think are destined for the back of the net.
During his early days at Man United De Gea used to be criticised for his inability to collect crosses. He has improved that aspect of his game but usually chooses to punch away shots rather than collect them. He also used to struggle with the ball at his feet.
De Gea used to feel nervous when a back pass was played to him. Most notable was his mistake during a Champions League game against Benfica in which he passed the ball to an opposition player which later turned out to be a goal, costing Man United progress to the last 16 in the 2011/12 season. Despite those setbacks he is now a calm presence at the back and has come a long way since his debut season at Old Trafford.
De Gea is so good that there is a hash tag dedicated to him. ‘Dave Saves’! He is undoubtedly the best keeper in the Premier League. He is better than very good keepers like Thibaut Courtois and Hugo Lloris. This brings us to his continental ‘foes’ Keylor Navas, Gigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer.
Navas has been enjoying a successful stint at Madrid. He was one of 3 keepers nominated for the ‘The Best’ FIFA awards. Buffon is also one of the candidates and played a big role in Juve’s 6 consecutive Serie A title and their road to the UCL final. But, De Gea looks to be better than Navas who sometimes can be inconsistent and an aging Buffon, who still is an amazing keeper.
And finally De Gea vs Neuer, a debate that invariably mirrors the Ronaldo vs Messi one. It has been a couple of years since the comparison between the two finest keepers started and it looks like it won’t stop anytime soon. I’m not trying to make a verdict here but merely provide a perspective in which future arguments can be based on.
Neuer is one of the most decorated keepers in history. He has won everything at club level and managed to secure the biggest prize with his national team, the World Cup. He has been voted Keeper of the year on numerous occasions and is the first of his position to reach the last 3 of the Ballon d’Or.
The Bayern man is much more than a shot stopper. He is also a defender and earned the name ‘Sweeper Keeper’ after the role he acquired under Pep Guardiola. With his team playing such a highline Neuer has the responsibility of intercepting balls outside of the penalty box, his performance against Algeria in the 2014 World Cup comes to mind.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he redefined the role of a goal keeper. In today’s game keepers are required to be able to start their teams attack, a role Neuer excels at.
He is also a remarkable shot stopper. What makes his saves more amazing is the fact that how easy he makes them look. The German usually manages to hold on to the ball than just divert it away.
This reminds me of an error he has made during Bayern’s game against Borussia M’Gladbach in the 2014/15 season. The Bavarians lost the game 2-0 and Neuer was the culprit. Rather than parry away a shot made by Raffael inside the box Neuer chose to try and hold on to a shot hit with such power, the ball inevitably slipped his hand and went into the back of the net.
Neuer is so good that he has some arrogance to his game. During that same season he made an amazing save to deny Marco Reus a free kick goal. BVB’s number 11 was already celebrating before Neuer stopped the ball at the line. The German keeper responded with a crooked smile to his national teammate. The occasional tricks and flicks he puts on are part of his trade as well.
The criticism Neuer gets is not on his ability but on the team/league he plays at. People try to make the case that because Bayern are so dominant he has nothing to do. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Managing to keep your concentration in a game that you are barely involved in is a mark of a top keeper.
So De Gea vs Neuer… I think De Gea is the best keeper at the moment. However, ideas that he has overtaken Neuer are presumptuous.
We can appreciate and applaud De Gea’s quality without having to compare him to anyone. But unfortunately modern football doesn’t work like that. The fact of the matter is even when Neuer returns from his long term injury Dave can be labelled as the best. But he still has a long way to go before being named the greatest of all time or if you prefer the GOAT.
He needs to replicate his amazing form in the bigger stages. The World Cup and Champions League Semi Finals/Finals are where the greatest keepers thrive. De Gea has to take his Premier League form to those competitions. He is still very young for a keeper and has plenty of time to do that.
But at the moment, let’s just agree that he is the best keeper in the world without belittling his rivals.
Written by Brook Genene
Follow Brook on Twitter @brookge
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