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At the end of their worst season in the 30-year history of the Premier League Manchester United have decided to cancel their traditional awards ceremony.
The annual event usually sees players, coaches and staff gather together for a televised dinner at Old Trafford where a set of awards are handed out.
But this year after such a disappointing season the United squad were too embarrassed to be seen celebrating anything and were relieved when it was cancelled. However, the awards will still be given to their winners, but in a more low-key fashion.
This means David De Gea could still need to clear some space on his mantlepiece. The Spanish goalkeeper has already won United’s Player of the Year award four times, in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018, and is one of the favourites to win it this year as well.
Along with Cristiano Ronaldo, the only other possible worthy recipient of the award, De Gea has been United’s best player during this disappointing season.
After suffering a loss of form last season, De Gea has been back to his best, and has saved United from suffering even worse indignities.
The arrival of United’s new manager Erik ten Hag this week has created uncertainty within the squad, with several players fearful about their positions. After his fine season De Gea should be safe, but this might not actually be the case.
The problem for De Gea is not with his form, but with how Ten Hag likes his goalkeepers to play in his sides.
The Dutchman demands that his goalkeepers are highly comfortable with their feet, exceptional passers, and use this to help build attacks from the back.
A casual glance at a statistic from last season’s Champions League should alarm De Gea. In the competition Ten Hag’s Ajax were ranked second for short passes from the goalkeeper, with Andre Onana and Remko Pasveer making a total of 25, while De Gea was way behind on 26th after making just eleven. It is simply not part of his game.
The Spaniard has many obvious strengths, chiefly his agility and shot-stopping, but a glaring weakness in recent years has been his limited distribution.
In the Premier League last season, De Gea ranked 18th for passes, making a total of 788, compared to the leader, his compatriot Robert Sanchez at Brighton with 1,333 passes, and Liverpool’s Alisson in second place with 1,177 passes.
De Gea ranked 16th for sweeper clearances with seven, compared to the leader Jose Sa at Wolves with 31, and Alisson in second place with 30. For throw-outs De Gea was a lowly 15th with 134 of them compared to the leader Illan Meslier at Leeds with 274.
He might still be only 31, relatively young for a goalkeeper, but De Gea looks almost old fashioned with how little he contributes to United’s outfield play.
The Spanish national squad have themselves decided to go in a different direction and this week their manager Luis Enrique overlooked De Gea when he chose his squad for an upcoming set of internationals.
Instead he chose Athletic Bilbao’s 24-year-old Unai Simon, 24-year-old Robert Sanchez and Brentford’s 26-year-old David Raya. All three of them offer more with their distribution.
It is clear De Gea would not be Ten Hag’s first choice to be his goalkeeper, but what might save him for now is the Dutchman has more urgent problems.
Ten Hag needs to concentrate on improving United’s woeful defence, midfield and strike force first. The goalkeeping position is just not a priority.
Despite his weaknesses, the Spaniard remains a brilliant goalkeeper, and this season he has also emerged as a real leader both on and off the pitch.
In a largely rudderless team Ten Hag would be reluctant to dispense with De Gea’s leadership and experience so quickly.
It would appear that the Spaniard has at least the start of next season to prove he can adapt his game and impress his new manager.