Without David de Gea heroics average Manchester United face a long way back to the top

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Having previously performed heroics season after season, David de Gea’s struggles continued as a far superior Manchester City moved a step closer to retaining their Premier League crown on enemy territory, exposing Manchester United’s flaws and giving a clear indication of how far they have fallen.

If personal accolades are your thing, then becoming a goalkeeper is not the position to pursue.

Only one goalkeeper – Lev Yashin – has been crowned Ballon d’Or winner, ever, but Manchester United have been an exception to the rule, with David de Gea named the team’s Player of the Year four out of the past five seasons.

Time and again, United’s not-so-rigid defence has been made to look almost impenetrable on occasion with De Gea possessing the ability to stop everything the opposition can muster.

However, as Manchester City put one hand on a second successive Premier League crown with a 2-0 victory at Old Trafford, De Gea, as he has for the past few months, looked anything but his normal self, arguably at fault for both goals.

And, as a result, we got a true indication of where United are at, and without De Gea in top form to paper over the gaps, United’s reality is that going toe-to-toe to title contenders is just not their game anymore.

“There are too many bluffers at this club to get United back to the very top,” former captain Roy Keane said ahead of Wednesday’s crucial derby clash.

"In defence of the United players - and it's easy to sit in this studio and be critical - they're probably really low on confidence. But there's a long way back for them.”

United’s display against Everton at the weekend was as bad any from the post Sir Alex Ferguson era, and following the furore over such a meek showing, a reaction was expected from the under-fire United players with rivals City in town looking to boost their title hopes.

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City in fact struggled to cope with United’s intensity in the opening exchanges at Old Trafford, but, slowly but surely, City grew into the encounter. The goal that settled City took time to come, with United still causing problems on the break, but when it did come, there was only one going to be winner.

De Gea will certainly feel that he should not have been beaten at his near post by Bernardo Silva, but it was the second goal, scored by Leroy Sane, that was a microcosm of De Gea’s poor woes in recent months, and served as a reminder of that chasm between the two rivals.

City will finish above United for a sixth successive season and for the seventh time in the last eight Premier League seasons. Prior to winning 2011-12 title, City had not finished above United for 20 seasons.

To explain the gulf yet further, City have finished an average of 11.8 points above United in last five full Premier League seasons – this season, such a margin will be far, far greater.

De Gea’s brilliance has, many fans have felt, helped United amass points totals that do not tell the full story. Now, without a clean sheet in 12 games in all competitions, De Gea has not been there to keep opponents at bay on his own, and thus we now see just how limited United are.

United’s stadium is looking dilapidated, the playing squad is ageing and sub-standard, and there is no hierarchical structure in place to instigate any change.

City, on the other hand, continue to go from strength to strength, and remain on course to have massed 198 points in two seasons, with the best training centre in the league and two former Barcelona technical directors and a plethora of other expertise running things to a different standard behind the scenes.

“There’s a difference in quality definitely,” Solskjaer said post match. That’s why they’re top of the league and we’re where we are. They set the standard.

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“Living in Manchester, we can’t be happy with that. It’s up to us to close that gap.”

Without De Gea bailing United out, and Solskjaer needs to realise that gap could in fact widen before anything gets any better, United simply cannot compete at the top table anymore and, worryingly for those trudging out of Old Trafford after another defeat, City and Liverpool are going to remain out of reach for a very, very long time.

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