Sunday, 14 December 2014

7 Truths: £215m spent, but David De Gea is Man Utd's best player


The goalkeeper is the best player in the squad, despite the huge amounts spent elsewhere.

David De Gea of Manchester United celebrates the first goal against Liverpool
David De Gea of Manchester United
celebrates the first goal against 
We learned seven things watching Manchester United's 3-0 win over Liverpool...


It has probably been said before, but let’s say it again: there is no better Manchester United player at present than David De Gea. The club have spent £215m since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson but the most influential member of the squad is one bequeathed by the former boss. The work of goalkeepers goes criminally underrated – just look at the list of Ballon d’Or winners – and it sometimes feels that people forget saving a goal makes just as significant an impact on the scoresheet as scoring one. Having already produced countless brilliant saves in the Premier League this season, the Spaniard, in the pick of his EIGHT stops today, denied Raheem Sterling in sensational fashion even after the England star had appeared to have given him the slip to tap into an empty net. It was a quite brilliant recovery from the Spaniard, who continues to outshine all others at Manchester United. Peter Schmeichel took to Twitter to declare it “brilliant” and there is no higher praise to say it was a moment worthy of the great Dane himself. And his save to tip Mario Balotelli’s shot onto the bar wasn’t bad either. The fact he was named man of the match said it all.


Manchester United's Juan Mata (L) heads the ball  to score the second goal past Liverpool's goalkeeper Brad Jon …
Manchester United's Juan Mata (L) heads the ball
 to score the second goal past Liverpool's goalkeeper Brad Jon …

Not all managers can get away with bold goalkeeper switches. Louis van Gaal did at the World Cup when famously bringing in Tim Krul for a penalty shoot-out against Costa Rica, but Brendan Rodgers did not today. He explained he dropped Simon Mignolet for the biggest game of the season because “Simon has played a lot of games, I felt the need to change and the rest will do Simon the world of good, coming out of the spotlight for a while.” But Brad Jones came into it and promptly got nowhere near the first shot which came his way, via the boot of Wayne Rooney. As Gary Neville put it so succinctly: “I’m not really sure what he’s doing diving the other way.” Jones didn’t perform particularly badly – and there’s nothing to say that Mignolet wouldn’t have continued his awful form with a howler at Old Trafford – but the disparity in the performances of the two goalkeepers neatly encapsulated the experience of both teams.


Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers looks on prior to the  Premier League match between Manchester United and Liv …
Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers looks on prior to the 
Premier League match between Manchester United and Liv …
The Liverpool team-sheet contained a number of surprises – Simon Mignolet dropped for Brad Jones; Glen Johnson in a back three; Raheem Sterling as a lone striker – leading Joey Barton to declare it a team selection that would “either kick-start a resurgence or cost a man his job”. Sadly for Brendan Rodgers, it looked rather more like the latter. Liverpool should have been in front through Sterling when Wayne Rooney edged United into the lead and had the better of the first half in terms of chances and possession, but Rodgers was unable to turn the tide once his side went behind. The introduction of Mario Balotelli at half-time appeared to be counter-productive as Liverpool lost some fluency, while bringing on Lazar Markovic as a makeshift wing-back came just before United added a third. On an afternoon when all his decisions went wrong, this called Rodgers’ future into further question, with Old Trafford gleefully chanting “you’re getting sacked in the morning.”


Liverpool's Raheem Sterling (right) finds no way  past Manchester United's Phil Jones
Liverpool's Raheem Sterling (right) finds no way
 past Manchester United's Phil Jones
The aforementioned Liverpool star surrendered some of his position of power in his contractual talks with the club with a rather abject performance. Sterling is worth more than the £70,000 Liverpool are currently offering him but he didn’t look it today. One glaring miss in the first half saw Rooney equalise within 30 seconds and his failure to convert after seemingly rounding De Gea was an awful moment for a wonderful player who suddenly looks rather short on confidence. Playing him as a lone striker was not a decision without merit – he can be thrilling running at defenders from a central position – but his final product was simply not good enough. Sterling’s abject miss in the second half also generated the tweet of the day.


Manchester United's Radamel Falcao has been  a sub for much of the season
Manchester United's Radamel Falcao has been
a sub for much of the season
Manchester United have a clause in Falcao’s contract which allows them to sign the Colombia striker on a permanent basis in the summer for a fee in the region of £50m. But they should not. Falcao was once again on the bench for the Liverpool match and this time he didn’t even have his fitness problems to blame. Van Gaal confirmed before kick-off that Falcao was fully fit but that he chose youngster James Wilson because “we need Wilson in this match.” Van Gaal cited the youngster’s speed as justification for his move but, while Gary Neville saw it as an endorsement of United’s tradition of blooding young talent, it also said something rather important about Falcao’s decline since a serious knee injury sustained a year ago. If he doesn’t start games like this, there’s no point keeping him on.


Liverpool's Mario Balotelli misses a chance to score
Liverpool's Mario Balotelli misses a chance to score
That’s the only conclusion we can draw after the Italian suffered another fruitless spell in front of goal in his 10th appearance in the league for Liverpool. Blaming all of Liverpool’s woes on Balotelli is as lazy as it is unfair, but he has certainly underperformed following his £16m arrival. Balotelli conducted a personal duel with De Gea in the second half and came off considerably worse, the Spaniard making three key saves to keep him out, including a barely believable reaction stop to divert a shot onto the underside of the bar. Liverpool’s problems are manifold, and Balotelli’s finishing is one of the bigger ones.


Manchester United's Ashley Young controls the ball during  their English Premier League match against Liverpool …
Manchester United's Ashley Young controls the ball during
 their English Premier League match against Liverpool …
Both team sheets caused a stir when they were published with as many as seven outfield players deployed in positions that are unnatural to them: Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney,Antonio Valencia, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Glen Johnson. The result was a rather error-strewn first half which brought to mind Neville’s prediction that this game would resemble a pub match. Two of England’s traditional giants are both scrabbling around for a starting XI at the moment and seemingly making things up on the go, and it didn’t make for a great spectacle. Mind you, Valencia did look pretty handy.

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