Bernabeu hero De Gea winning numbers game

Posted by Alistair Tweedale,

Cesar Manso/AFP/Getty ImagesDavid de Gea ranks as one of the best shot-stoppers in Europe

Edwin van der Sar aside, the Manchester United No.1 jersey has been a problem to fill adequately since Peter Schmeichel departed. The likes of Massimo Taibi, Riccardo and Roy Carroll have come and gone in the Red Devil's goal with little success, and while the money splashed on Fabian Barthez paid some dividends, it was not until recently that manager Sir Alex Ferguson went all out and recruited David De Gea, a player he obviously sees as United's long-term goalkeeper.

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De Gea has had his problems, though. He is hardly free from criticism and is understandably, given his high-pressure role, heavily in the media's spotlight. It seems, however, that De Gea might just have come good. At the Bernabeu on Wednesday night in the most high profile, high-pressure game in European football this season, De Gea was United's star of the show, as can be seen in's match centre, picking up his highest ever rating in the Champions League when many expected him to crumble.

Of course, there was little swaying the focus from the world superstar that is Cristiano Ronaldo, who peppered De Gea's goal with 10 attempts, including his fantastic equalising header that left the Spaniard rooted to the spot. But De Gea had no chance there, and had already asserted his shot-stopping abilities in denying Fabio Coentrao with an undeniably world class save early on in the game.

Even prior to that, De Gea has done much to silence his critics this season, and while the odd error or lapse of judgment remains, there are few around at the moment that are better at keeping shots out than the Manchester United stopper. Of the 30 goalkeepers to have made at least three appearances in the Champions League this season, only six have saved a higher proportion of the shots on target he has faced than De Gea, who boasts a save success rate of 78.3%. One might argue here that Group H - in which United competed this season - was below the standards that other goalies will have had to contend with, and that Ferguson's team qualified top of the group with all too much ease, making De Gea's job all the more simple.

However, the third most expensive goalkeeper in history has repaid some of his hefty transfer fee with plenty of saves in Premier League games as well. Of the 20 first-choice stoppers in the English top flight, De Gea has the best save success rate, keeping out almost exactly the same proportion as in European competition (78.16%). In fact, of all regular 'keepers across Europe's top 5 leagues this season, only Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer (85.7%), PSG's Salvatore Sirigu (83.3%) and Bordueaux's Cedric Carrasso (78.21%) have saved more often than the Spaniard.

It would be inaccurate to attribute De Gea's consistent rate across the two competitions purely to inferior opposition, as he proved in making seven saves against some of the best in the world on Wednesday night, as well as putting in impressive performances on a number of other occasions this season.

One of those games was away at Manchester City, when a string of fine saves brought him a WhoScored man of the match award, while at White Hart Lane he kept his side in the lead with several point-blank saves from Gareth Bale and Clint Dempsey. However, that game may well epitomise De Gea as a goalkeeper more than any other. After such a fine performance and his side minutes away from the kind of win - without playing well - that Ferguson's Manchester United have become masters of in recent years, De Gea flapped unconvincingly at a cross and Spurs profited with an equaliser.

De Gea's shot stopping capabilities are enough to keep him in the United team at the moment, but with Anders Lindegaard always waiting in the wings for an opportunity, De Gea often finds himself on the bench after an error. The fact that he is currently enjoying a run of games between the posts shows that he is improving in that regard, and having only committed one error that has directly led to a goal this season, he is undoubtedly growing in confidence. His Manchester City counterpart, Joe Hart, who many people will argue is the better of the two title-challenging keepers, has made the second most costly errors (4) in the Premier League this season, behind only the mistake prone Ali Al-Habsi (6).

Could it be that De Gea is kicking that bad habit from his game? His shot-stopping is simply getting better and better, and if he is shown the confidence of his manager and continues in goal for the league leaders, his performances will improve and his reputation will continue to grow. He has shown signs of being the world class goalkeeper that his transfer fee suggests he should become, and while there are aspects of his game that he most certainly has to work on, he is slowly but surely repaying the faith than Ferguson has put in him.

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