Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Everton at Old Trafford in the Premier League this weekend was a relief for their fans, but also gave a stark warning as to the trouble they would be in without David de Gea - raising the question: is he too good for them?
Victory put them fourth in the Premier League, which isn’t bad considering the intense criticism received after a forgettable start to the campaign under Louis van Gaal.
Everton are a serious opponent too, so there may be some optimism creeping into the ranks of the Old Trafford faithful. Van Gaal’s words after the match will have done little to dampen this.
"I've already told my players we aren't playing good and we've already hit the top four, so what will happen when we're playing well?” he said after the win.
Now, the former Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Ajax manager is famous for his confidence, but this comment may be a little reckless. Yes, Manchester United had managed to find a way to win while playing poorly, but the nature of this victory was unusual.
Saved the day
The Spaniard kept out a Leighton Baines penalty late in the first half and also pulled off three more incredible saves late in the game to keep Manchester United in the lead.
Things may well change of the Red Devils over the next few months, but the ease with which Roberto Martinez’s men were able to get at the defence signalled no change from the embarrassment at Leicester City last week.
Out of sorts opposition
Roberto Martinez’s men aren’t exactly surfing on the crest of a wave at the moment either; two wins in ten competitive matches this season is a long way from how they set about things last term.
When even a team low on confidence and searching for a win can expose huge flaws so straightforwardly, you know trouble is coming. Old Trafford holds no fear any longer, yet the name of the club on the walls is still a motivating enough scalp for the visitors.
De Gea can be forgiven for feeling a little undervalued at the moment, with both his current domestic and international situations not really doing him any justice.
Appointing David Moyes to replace the retiring Sir Alex Ferguson last summer turned into a disaster and the number one between the sticks was one of the few positives. A dismal season saw them finish seventh in the Premier League and without European football for the first time in over a decade.
Shot of confidence, bereft of coherent guidance from above and a number of senior players looking ahead to careers continuing elsewhere, all conspired to make things thoroughly miserable for a player who should be playing at the highest level.
Van Gaal’s arrival cultivated enthusiasm among fans, especially as his Netherlands side progressed impressively through the rounds at the World Cup in Brazil. An eventual third place finish with as limited a squad as Oranje had put out in a long time was hailed as tactical genius on the part of the Dutchman and United fans were even more optimistic.
However, as few need to be told, it didn’t quite work like that and victory over Everton comes as a refreshing tonic to a torrid season. De Gea’s quality in that match made the difference in such a way that Van Gaal needs to turn things around if they want to see him do anything similar in a Manchester United shirt beyond this season.
It feels like a pivotal year in De Gea’s career. His current predicament at Old Trafford could go either way this season and his situation with Spain is at a similar crossroads.
You will not hear him say a bad word about the great Iker Casillas, but there is no way he cannot be thinking that his time to take up the mantle as Spain number one.
Vicente del Bosque’s incredible success with La Roja has a lot to do with building an incredible team with a core of familiar faces, using a philosophy all will know well. With this in mind, it is understandable as to why the former Real Madrid manager would be reluctant to drop his captain.
Over a season of under par performances at Real Madrid, leading to him being dropped at various points, and some high-profile blunders in the disastrous campaign in Brazil this summer could see the change being mad in the not too distant future.
De Gea does not need to do much more to prove that he has what it takes to walk into the role and, while Spain have an abundance of top quality goalkeepers, he is probably the pick of the bunch.
He is ready
His quality and consistency over the past two seasons are all the more impressive when one considers the fact that he is still only 23 years old. Such maturity at such a young age brings even more parallels with Casillas, whose emergence at Real Madrid came when still a teenager.
It would be fitting that a player who will undoubtedly go down as one of the greats of the modern game is eventually replaced by a young man who took a similar path by cutting his teeth at one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Top four or bust could be the name of the game between Manchester United and De Gea this season. He must be playing at the highest level and were the Red Devils to suffer another loss of first team football, there would be little surprise in De Gea not only taking Casillas’ number one spot for Spain.