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De Gea do not handle ball as Onana, a modern style goalkeeper.

After 12 years with the club, David De Gea has established himself as a fan favorite, but it's not simply his age, the demands of his contract, or the questions around his form that account for his departure. The difficulty is in responding to the goalkeeper's evolving responsibilities.

De Gea and Andre Onana
Photo showing Andre Onana and De Gea of Manchester united.


De Gea has an impressive highlight reel, and his well-known performance against Arsenal in 2017 stands out on its own. There were times when his agile body was all that stood between United and humiliation as the last line of defense in an often leaky unit. For a record-breaking fourth time that season, he took home the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year honor. He averted 13.7 goals, which may have been the difference between placing second and not playing in the Champions League at all, according to the expected-goals figures. However, it was five years ago.

Since then, he has made a number of outstanding saves, although his overall record is only average. In the bulk of the previous five seasons, De Gea has given up more goals than anticipated from the shots he has faced. Not good for someone whose shot-stopping prowess was unmatched.

The latest error against West Ham was mystifying, and the failure to stop Ilkay Gundogan from winning the FA Cup was more expensive. According to goalkeeping expert John Harrison, 81 percent of the time, Premier League goalkeepers would have stopped the strike.

Given the difficulties the Dutchman had navigating Old Trafford during his first season, it is unsurprising that he prioritized change in other areas, despite Erik ten Hag's constant assertion that there was a desire on both sides for De Gea to remain. But it comes as no surprise that he sees this change as a chance. Andre Onana is the single best example of everything De Gea is not.

Before the Champions League final, Pep Guardiola praised the 27-year-old goalie. Onana makes it very challenging to use a high press against him, according to Manchester City's head coach. "You can't properly press the goalkeeper." He pointed to that as the primary distinction between playing United at Wembley and Inter in Istanbul.

The biggest contrast is in his skill when he has the ball at his feet. This explains why De Gea's blunder against Brentford in that first away game under Ten Hag's leadership was less of a reason for alarm than his hesitant handling of the ball that afternoon.

Ten Hag was quickly compelled to modify his strategy. In comparison to Ederson at Manchester City or Alisson at Liverpool, De Gea sent 48% of his passes far last season. Due to his goalkeeper's limitations, the United manager managed to make it work.

Frans Hoek, a fellow Dutchman and the current goalie coach at Manchester United, once asserted that there are only two types of goalkeepers. They are either A-type or R-type goalkeepers, or those who anticipate and those who react, depending on their level of skill.

De Gea was one of the top players in the later generation, but the former is now more popular. In 2020, when Hoek inquired about this, he responded, "The demands of the game modify what we want from a goalie. So how will we incorporate that?

During De Gea's two seasons as the goalkeeper coach at United, Hoek attempted to assist him develop his game and become a bit more at ease with the ball at his feet by incorporating him more both in and out of the game. It was probably split 50/50 between solitary and integrated training over my twelve years at Ajax," Hoek told Sky Sports. "At the time, I still thought that solitary training was crucial. I maintained it in that state until it was perhaps 70–30 in favor of integration.

At Manchester United, it was probably 80–90% with the team and barely 10–20% without the other members of the team. The goalkeepers did not like that, as I can tell you. Compared to what they were used to, it was entirely different. I was really obstinate since for me, game progression was the only thing that mattered. The issue was that solitary practice wasn't helping them get better.  

De Gea still favors to rely on his reflexes. Even when crosses are not coming into the box, he continues to be happier on his line. Of the 13 goalkeepers who made 30 Premier League appearances last season, his 11 accurate "keeper sweepings" were the fewest.

The elite teams place more emphasis on possession retention than ever before, so getting off the line is more than just sweeping; it's also about joining the defense to take part in a successful build-up play. By doing this, a defender might go forward, causing overloads elsewhere.

This is obviously a strength for Onana. According to data from Second Spectrum, De Gea did not finish among the top 20 goalkeepers in the Premier League last season for passes completed above average considering the possibilities at his disposal. Top of the list was Jason Steele of Brighton. Steele has spent the majority of his 32-year career in the Championship. He becomes a representation of the shifting objectives of the modern Premier League coach since Roberto De Zerbi prefers him above Spain international Robert Sanchez.

The opportunities for United are expanded by the entrance of Onana. There will undoubtedly be unpleasant situations and missteps that will reinforce the notion that a less risky strategy is preferable. But anticipate that United's build-up will resemble that of the most successful teams more.

Long ball strategies, as outlined by Guardiola, can change. It will be more in line with Ten Hag's fashion, which is now considered standard in the current game. Despite all of the pleasant memories of playing at Old Trafford, the style is more to Andre Onana's than David de Gea's.

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