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Is De Gea good enough to remain Man United’s number one?

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Is De Gea good enough to remain Man United’s number one?

The future of David De Gea has been a highly debated topic. The 32-year-old Spaniard has been at Manchester United for 12 years, where he has undeniably established himself as one of the world’s top goalkeepers. In his prime, he proved to be a formidable obstacle for some of football’s greatest teams and players, earning a well-deserved reputation as an exceptional shot-stopper with remarkable reflexes and agility.

However, in the ever-evolving world of football, concerns have arisen regarding De Gea’s ability to play with the ball at his feet. These concerns have been particularly relevant since Manchester United appointed Erik ten Hag as their manager last summer. Ten Hag’s tactical philosophy emphasises playing out from the back, necessitating a goalkeeper who is comfortable and skillful in possession. Additionally, this season has witnessed a few errors in De Gea’s shot-stopping, which has raised doubts about his long-term future at Old Trafford.

To shed light on the matter, Bonuscodebets analysed data dating back to the 2011/12 season, with the help of OPTA statisticians, to determine when his decline began, the quality of his shot stopping and to see how he compares to other top Premier League goalkeepers when it comes to playing the ball out from the back.

When did the De Gea decline begin?

De Gea has been honoured with the prestigious Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award on four occasions, an outstanding achievement. What’s even more remarkable is that he won the award for three consecutive years, from 2013/14 to 2015/16. His performances on the field were of such a high level that a mere fax machine mishap prevented him from joining Spanish giants Real Madrid.

However, the summer of 2018 marked a turning point for De Gea, as a shot stopper. During the 2018 World Cup, he was at fault for Portugal’s equaliser against Spain, and since then, it appears that he hasn’t been able to regain the form and consistency that had established him as one of the world’s best goalkeepers.

De Gea’s Shot Stopping

One of the most intriguing statistics to analyse is the Spaniard’s save percentage. From the 2011-12 season to the 2017/18 season, his percentage remained consistently above 70%, with only one exception in the 2013-14 season. This particular season coincided with David Moyes taking charge of Manchester United after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

In the 2017/18 season, De Gea reached the pinnacle of his performance with an impressive save percentage of 80.3%. The closest he came to replicating that level was in his debut season of 2011/2012, where he achieved a save percentage of 77.9%. These numbers demonstrate his remarkable shot-stopping abilities and highlight the peak periods of his career in terms of save percentage.

The subsequent seasons witnessed a decline in De Gea's save percentage, which is concerning considering his reputation as a remarkable shot stopper. In the 2018/19 season, his save percentage dropped to 69.0%, reflecting an 11.3% decrease compared to his peak. However, he managed to bounce back in the following season, reaching a save percentage of 72.7%.

Unfortunately, the trend of declining save percentages continued in the 2020/21, 2021/22, and the current 2022/23 season, with figures of 65.2%, 68.9%, and 68.7% respectively. This indicates a continued decrease from the heights of his earlier career. These statistics raise concerns about De Gea's consistency and suggest a potential decline in his shot-stopping abilities in recent years.

Errors leading to goals

In recent weeks, David De Gea has faced intense scrutiny due to the errors that have started to affect his game. These errors have had significant consequences for Manchester United's aspirations of securing a spot in the Champions League for the following season. The mistake made by De Gea, which resulted in West Ham scoring their opening and only goal against United on May 7th, only increased the pressure on the 32 year old.

The data indicates that although David De Gea has made errors leading to goals this season, it may not be his worst season statistically in that regard. The 2018-19 season stands out as his most error-prone season, with four errors that resulted in goals being conceded. However, it's important to note that there are still three league fixtures remaining for Manchester United, and thus, these statistics could potentially change.

Playing out from the back 

Erik ten Hag is widely recognised for his insistence on his teams playing out from the back, which is an integral part of his coaching philosophy. To successfully execute this style of play, it is crucial to have players who are comfortable receiving the ball in various situations, including the goalkeeper. Unfortunately, this aspect of David De Gea's game has faced significant scrutiny, as questions have been raised about his ability to meet these demands 

Interestingly, according to data collected by Opta, David De Gea has attempted a higher number of passes per game (28.8) and has completed more passes per game this season compared to any other season. Additionally, his passing accuracy stands at 67%, which is relatively good for him. His best passing accuracy season was recorded in 2019/20 when he achieved an impressive 74.4%.

In recent years, an important aspect of goalkeeping has been the confidence to play higher up the pitch, often referred to as sweeper keeping. De Gea's average sweeper keeping per game throughout his time at Manchester United closely aligns with his successful sweeper keeping sweeps per game. 

To assess how these statistics compare to his Premier League counterparts in the current season, it would be necessary to review the performance data of other goalkeepers and compare their passing metrics and sweeper keeping contributions.

De Gea compared to his peers  

While David De Gea's statistics suggest that his ability to play out from the back and contribute as a sweeper keeper has remained relatively consistent during his tenure at Manchester United, it appears that the time may have come for the club to consider an upgrade. Comparing his passing metrics to those of other goalkeepers, it is evident that there is room for improvement. Brentford's David Raya, for instance, leads the league with the highest number of passes per game at 38.6, while De Gea trails behind at 28.8.

PlayerPasses per game 
David Raya38.6
Emiliano Martínez35.4
Alisson33.9
Bernd Leno33
Gavin Bazunu32.1
De Gea28.8

In terms of successful passes per game, he falls behind Liverpool's Alisson (28.2) with 19.6 successful passes per game. Moreover, in passing accuracy, United's number one lags significantly behind Manchester City's Ederson, who leads the charts with an accuracy of 84.6%, whereas De Gea's accuracy is at 67.9%, resulting in a considerable disparity of 16.7%. These comparisons indicate that there are goalkeepers in the league who excel in these areas, suggesting that Manchester United may benefit from considering an upgrade in this position.

Player Passes Successful per game
Alisson28.2
Ederson26.6
Emiliano Martínez26
Bernd Leno25.1
Kepa Arrizabalaga25
De Gea19.6
PlayerPassing Accuracy per game
Ederson84.60%
Alisson83.20%
Kepa Arrizabalaga80.10%
Bernd Leno76.10%
Robert Sánchez74.70%
De Gea67.9%

According to Opta, a sweeper keeper action refers to a goalkeeper anticipating danger and swiftly coming off their line to either intercept an attacking pass (in a contest with an opponent) or pressurise an opposition player. In the case of David De Gea, his average sweeper keeper actions and accurate sweeper keeper actions per game are both recorded at 0.3.

Player Keeper Sweepings per game
Nick Pope1
Emiliano Martínez0.9
Illan Meslier0.9
Alisson0.8
Bernd Leno0.7
De Gea0.3

However, it is worth noting that he still trails behind other goalkeepers such as Nick Pope, Emiliano Martínez, Illan Meslier, and Alisson in terms of both total sweeper keeper actions and accurate sweeper keeper actions per game. This suggests that these goalkeepers have been more active and effective in fulfilling the sweeper keeper role compared to De Gea.

Player Accurate Keeper Sweepings
Nick Pope1
Emiliano Martínez0.9
Illan Meslier0.8
Alisson0.8
Kepa Arrizabalaga0.6
De Gea0.3

Conclusion

While he has been prone to errors this season, the data provided by OPTA suggests that there hasn't been a significant spike in errors. However, there have been more errors since the 2018/19 season compared to the first half of his time at Manchester United. Additionally, his save percentage has decreased since the 2018/19 season, indicating weaknesses in certain aspects of his game.

Considering De Gea's age, experience, and calibre at 32 years old, one would expect a goalkeeper to be either in their prime or preparing to enter it, as goalkeepers typically reach their peak in the latter stages of their careers. However, this is not the case for De Gea. Moreover, the data shows that his passing ability and sweeper keeper actions are significantly behind his peers in the Premier League.

It's not all negative for him though. His clean sheets and clean sheet percentile this season are favourable compared to his previous seasons in the league. He still possesses the ability to make incredible saves with his spider-like reflexes. However, overall, the data suggests that it might be time for Erik ten Hag to bid farewell to one of the league's greatest ever goalkeepers.

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