Former Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty believes the Red Devils would currently be in the Premier League relegation zone without the vital contribution of goalkeeper David de Gea this season.
The 86-year-old Scot, who was in charge of United between 1972 and 1977, is unimpressed with his former team's football under manager Louis van Gaal and feels the club would be in danger of relegation to the Championship without their world-class Spaniard in between the sticks.
De Gea has been in magnificent form this season, earning praise from fans and pundits alike for his brilliant performances, but has yet to put pen-to-paper on a contract extension with the Premier League giants.
United would be struggling without De Gea - Docherty
“If David De Gea, who has shown he’s world-class, hadn’t played the way he has this season, United would probably be in the relegation zone now," Docherty was quoted as saying by the Mirror. "He’s been absolutely brilliant.”
The ex-United boss, like an ever-increasing number of the club's fans, feels Van Gaal is failing with the star-studded squad at his disposal - and expects supporter backlash could soon follow.
Docherty unimpressed by Van Gaal
“Van Gaal’s record abroad is fantastic, with Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Ajax,” Docherty added. “But he’s got to start producing very, very quickly at United. The supporters will expect them to be doing better than they are at the moment.
“Once the crowd start to get on you if you don’t give them what they want – and they’re the ones who pay your salary – they’ll start showing disillusionment with the way the team is playing.
“The fans at United have been brought up with great football – two wingers going down the touchline, raining crosses in to the strikers. That’s not happening.
“You’ve got to give the supporters what they want, and you can’t really see a lot of progress at the moment, with the money he’s already spent, let alone the money he’s set to spend this summer.
“With that, you have to guarantee success. They’ve still got a good chance of finishing in the top four and back into the Champions League, but the way they’re playing there’s no guarantee."
United face tough March and April
Docherty is spot on with that assessment. Manchester United may currently occupy third place but could easily slide down the Premier League table over the forthcoming weeks and months.
Southampton, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool are all a mere matter of points away from the Red Devils, who face a daunting run of fixtures in March and April - when they meet the likes of Spurs, Liverpool, Manchester City and league-leaders Chelsea.
United must tie De Gea down to new deal
It's also true that, without De Gea, United would probably be lower down the Premier League table.
It is imperative that the Red Devils tie the 24-year-old down to a new long-term contract, despite the January arrival of former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
Failure to convince De Gea to sign a new deal may allow European champions Real Madrid to capitalise. The Spanish giants have been strongly linked with the former Atletico Madrid starlet over recent months and might be even more tempted to make a formal move this summer following Iker Casillas's dismal performance in the 4-0 defeat to rivals Atletico earlier this month.
Van Gaal must ensure that De Gea remains at Old Trafford and that Manchester United qualify for next season's Champions League campaign.
Failure to do both could - and, if you use David Moyes' treatment as a benchmark, should - result in his sacking.
Without De Gea, which position would Manchester United be in the Premier League table this season? Have your say in the comments below.