David de Gea was brilliant on Sunday at Wembley, as Manchester United eked out a 1-0 win against Spurs to go level on points with Arsenal. He made 11 saves in the second half, enabling his side to defend their lead. Now the quantity of the saves was undoubtedly there, but what about the quality? Most of the shots taken ‘seemed’ to be right at the Spaniard. This raises the question that how much credit does he actually deserve?
To address the issue, let’s take a look at the 11 saves. After all, those 11 moments are the telling contributions which De Gea made. I’ll be using expected goals (xG) as a major factor in judging the qualities of these saves. Subjective analysis will also come into the picture.
46′ Save 1, Son Heung-min, xG = 0.02
Son’s effort was a tame one, as he failed to catch it cleanly. Truth be told, anyone could have saved it.
48′ Save 2, Harry Kane, xG = 0.08
Kane’s shot was from a favourable distance, and it was on his favoured right foot. But the angle was tight, and De Gea’s positioning was astute. Kane tried to go across the goal but shot it at the ‘keeper. Even though the shot was at him, De Gea needed quick reflexes and brilliant footwork to thwart the effort.
49′ Save 3, Dele Alli, xG = 0.08
Due to the lack of pace on the cross, Alli failed to get the power behind his header. The looping effort was relatively weak, and not perfectly in the corner either. As you can see in the picture, De Gea gets his right hand to it, which is his trusted one but not the farthest one. He was not stretched fully and did not have to use his left hand. A good save, but not one of the highest calibre.
58′ Save 4, Harry Kane, xG = 0.13
Phil Jones does a good job here and doesn’t give Kane any space whatsoever. As a result, the header is in the middle of the goal, and at a good height for the goalkeeper. It arrives with pace, but De Gea gets his body behind it. A routine save.
64′ Save 5, Christian Eriksen, xG = 0.01
A really tame effort and the xG tells the whole story. Easy pickings for De Gea.
65′ Save 6, Dele Alli, xG = 0.51
This was statistically Spurs’ best chance, and by a long margin. Alli did not make the most of it, shooting straight at the goalkeeper. But De Gea also played a part. His body positioning with respect to the angle of the goal was spot on. So was the positioning of his right leg, which prevented the goal. Another example of solid and intelligent goalkeeping.
69′ Save 7, Toby Alderweireld, xG = 0.08
Alderweireld snuck in at the near post and fired in a powerful low shot. Again, it was at De Gea, but again, he had much left to do. He adjusted his legs in double-quick time and repelled the effort with a firm left leg. His reflexes pulled off the save for him. For such a tall person, it is fascinating how he dropped like a lithe dancer so quickly.
70′ Save 8, Harry Kane, xG = 0.05
The position was a good one for a free-kick, and Kane put a decent effort in. But it was lacking slightly in both the power and curve departments. De Gea dived and held on to the ball really well. Again, a good stop, though not a great one.
73′ Save 9, Dele Alli, xG = 0.06
This was another chance Alli failed to put away. His shot was too central, and a decent height for the goalkeeper. De Gea had no problems, and palmed it away, showcasing those reflexes yet again.
85′ Save 10, Harry Kane, xG = 0.05
Kane had a decent sight of goal and unleashed a low drive. De Gea stuck out a leg again, owing to great reflexes and footwork. A really good save from the Spaniard.
88′ Save 11, Fernando Llorente, xG = 0.08
Llorente failed to strike a clean effort, and the result was a weak shot. De Gea engulfed the ball gratefully, to cap off the lengthy string of saves.
What did we learn?
Bear with me for this analogy. If you give a high-school test to a college sophomore, he’ll ace it. But you can’t really judge him accurately based on that, right? Give him one from the postgraduate syllabus to really test him. De Gea received a high-school test at Wembley.
We are used to seeing saves from De Gea which make our jaws drop. Against Spurs, he didn’t make any of them. Truth be told, he did not need to. He made several good saves, with unerring consistency. His positioning and footwork, in particular, were exemplary.
Aside from the individual saves, their collective impact has to be considered. When a goalkeeper is literally saving everything thrown at him, it is bound to plant doubts in the striker’s mind. And when that happens, the frustration multiplies, which can only harm the further chances of a goal.
De Gea made 11 saves on the day, some of them good, some of them easy. Nothing eye-catching. Spurs were not accurate enough when they had chances, which made his job all the more easier. Could other top-class goalkeepers have pulled off those saves if put in that situation? I’d say probably yes. But we’ll never know. All we know is De Gea needed to, and he did so to great effect. Kudos to him for that.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Pre-order your copy of the January issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.