One of the great injustices of the past week is that David de Gea hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves for his starring role in the win over Fulham.
As the full-time whistle was drowned out by a boisterous away end at Craven Cottage, focus turned to match-winner Alejandro Garnacho, who was soaking up the limelight.
It was his impressive industry that forged the final chance of the game; it was his craftiness and composure that saw the ball roll into the back of the net. A moment of calm amid the chaos that followed.
Garnacho fully deserves the headlines for his moment of stardom, but without the saves of De Gea at the other end of the pitch, it would have counted for nothing more than a consolation.
It was a day in which the Spaniard didn’t necessarily produce any of the outrageous saves he has come to be known for across his career, though what he did produce was a string of hugely important saves when his team was under fire.
There was some criticism of De Gea for not intercepting the cross that led to Daniel James’ equalising strike, but it seems he is always made a scapegoat whenever any goal is conceded, regardless of other failings around him.
Instead, the 32-year-old tends to go under the radar unless he has made a huge, unforgivable error, or gets lavished with praise if he makes a match-winning stop at the death like he did against West Ham.
In recent weeks, he has quietly gone about his business, and it has been a huge benefit to United as they’ve searched for stability under Erik ten Hag.
De Gea finished the Fulham win having made six saves, five of which were inside his own box. He completed three long balls, had 41 touches of the ball in total, and registered a credible 82% passing accuracy.
United will still consider signing a new goalkeeper next year, but funds could be limited given that adding a new striker is the priority. With Cristiano Ronaldo on his way out, there is even an argument to suggest that signing two forwards is advisable given how few options there are.
Ten Hag also has an interest in signing a new right full-back to offer competition for Diogo Dalot, while there is also an appreciation for a new midfielder in order to ease the reliance on Christian Eriksen’s creativity.
It means that while signing a new goalkeeper might be a long-term ambition of the club, it could still be overlooked next year given that the squad would perhaps gain more from strengthening other positions first.
That’s a feeling echoed by club great Edwin van der Sar, someone who is eager for supporters to look at the bigger picture when it comes to analysing the current first-choice in goal.
“David has done fantastically,” the Dutchman told The Athletic. “He succeeded me in 2011, it’s now 2022 — he’s played 11 years and five times Player of the Season. Yes, he is a certain type of goalkeeper, and he is very good at certain points and a little bit less at other ones. Nobody is perfect.
“But he is still young. He has developed himself. It has also to do with outfield players, the way the coach want to play, the way they want to play the ball from defensive areas. On the goalkeeping side, I don’t think there are any complaints regarding David.”
Van der Sar makes a very important point. It is no secret that De Gea isn’t always the perfect fit for the style of play that is desired, but by going in pursuit of someone who is, they could lose out on the greatest asset of all: actually keeping the ball out of the net.
Instead, with transfer priorities lying elsewhere, it might still be best for United to stick with what they have in goal and see whether or not the Spaniard really can adapt to their style of play before his contract expires at the end of the season.
De Gea has already signalled his desire to sign a new contract at the club, though it makes most sense for the club to trigger his one-year extension and give him another season to prove his worth under Ten Hag before any firm decision is made.
The goalkeeper’s future will no doubt become a much more pressing subject the next time he has a headline-grabbing performance, whether that is for good or bad reasons, but it is in these times of lull that a fairer assessment can be made.
Signing a new shot-stopper is a preference, not necessarily a priority.