As the recriminations from Manchester United’s Europa League loss to Villareal linger on, much of the focus has been on United goalkeeper David De Gea‘s tepid display in the shootout.
A series of high profile blunders have seen the Spaniard fall out of favour over the past two years, with his ‘rival’ Dean Henderson regularly being preferred between the sticks.
However, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer chose to stick with De Gea for Wednesday night’s high stakes showdown, and the keeper’s weakness from the spot was again exposed during an 11-10 shootout defeat.
This weakness will not come as a surprise to United followers – after all, De Gea has failed to save any of the last 32 penalties he’s faced for the club. It’s a barren patch that goes back five long years.
Goalkeeping analyst John Harrison has presented a fascinating analysis of the player’s technique from the spot, highlighting the deep flaw that contributed towards the defeat.
The analyst’s most damning observation involves the widely-accepted principle that a keeper takes a step in the direction of the anticipated flight of the kick. However, De Gea goes against convention, stepping inwardly – a “negative step” – which leaves him without the extra leg to power needed to launch himself towards his chosen corner.
This explains why the Spaniard seems to fall tamely in the general direction of the penalty, rather than propelling himself across goal.
Although it would be harsh to blame De Gea for his penalty miss, former Republic of Ireland keeper Dean Kiely noticed flaws of a psychological, rather than technical, nature.
Now Crystal Palace’s goalkeeping coach, Kiely said, “I think, if it was me, at that point I’m beginning to think, ‘Oh no, I’m going to have to take one…I thought the Villareal keeper hit his penalty exactly like I would expect a keeper to hit it…He hits it hard. De Gea though, I was surprised, he tried to place it.”
Whether De Gea should have been facing penalties at all is now moot. Solskjaer seemed paralysed in the face of his players’ fatigue and preoccupied by the possibility of a shootout. When the subs finally arrived – a glut of specialist penalty takers – his inhibited thinking was confirmed.
Bringing on a keeper with a much better penalty-saving record (5 from 19) in Henderson could, and should, have been his final sub.
Ultimately, if the shootout was still being played – and we ignored our better instincts by flicking over to see how it was going – it seems sadly inevitable that we’d find De Gea falling unconvincingly to the wrong side even now.