Wednesday 29 January 2020

Fergie tips De Gea to give United title push helping hand

Jack Pitt-Brooke

ALEX FERGUSON is hoping that the upward curve of Manchester United's season continues tonight at Ewood Park.

After some difficult moments earlier in the campaign, United now have the Premier League title comfortably within their reach. Victory tonight would move them five points clear of Manchester City.

No one better symbolises that improvement, or is more responsible for it, than young Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea. Signed from Atletico Madrid last summer, De Gea struggled at first with the transition from England.

Soft goals conceded against Manchester City and West Brom, and a habitual struggle under crosses, marked De Gea as a 'keeper still coming to terms with the challenges of English football.

But having grown in confidence and, seemingly, in physical stature, De Gea now has the authority to accompany his remarkable gifts, and Ferguson is delighted.

"I think, the thing is, he has stood up as a man," Ferguson said of his goalkeeper, who has conceded only two goals in his last five matches and kept three clean sheets. "Similar to what I was saying about (much-maligned Blackburn boss) Steve Kean, he got a grip of it, he didn't let it get to him and the boy has improved in every game.

challenge

"Now he is playing with confidence and confidence is a great factor for any footballer, as you know. But he stood up to the situation. He knew it was a challenge.

"It took him time to adjust to the different ways of the English game as opposed to the Spanish game, but he is showing that now."

De Gea has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League in recent months. With his almost preternatural reflexes, and his gymnast's spring and grace, he is able to make saves that most others are not.

De Gea's stop from Juan Mata's free-kick in the final minutes of United's 3-3 draw at Chelsea was probably the best of the season so far. Now, like a true United player, De Gea is coming good at precisely the right time.

He impressed again last Monday night in United's 1-0 home defeat of Fulham. "The other night, once again, he made two or three really terrific punches in the second half of the game when they started to put the ball into the box," Ferguson said. "He has shown fantastic improvement, the boy."

The last game in which De Gea struggled was the surprising 3-2 defeat to tonight's opponents at Old Trafford on New Year's Eve. Ferguson believes he has used that experience to improve.

"What we expected was his terrific ability to show and that is what we are seeing now," the United manager said. "The area in which he has been criticised has been dealing with the aerial balls into the box, not least the corner kick against Blackburn; he should have dealt with that better, he knew that, but he has addressed that situation."

There is still some way to go before De Gea can match the assured authority of Edwin van der Sar, his predecessor as United's No 1, but he is only 21. United are now in the enviable position of being able to write off the Manchester derby in four weeks' time. They could lose that and still retain their Premier League title by winning their seven other remaining games.

United, however, will be taking nothing for granted. Although they sealed their 19th league title with a 1-1 draw at Blackburn last season, Ewood Park has proved an unrewarding venue for Ferguson's team, with just two wins in their last 11 visits.

Blackburn are fighting at the opposite end of the table. Their win at Old Trafford launched a better run of results, thanks largely to the goal threat of Yakubu and Junior Hoilett. But recent wins for Wigan, QPR and Bolton have dragged the Rovers back into it.

Defeat tonight will force them back into the relegation zone, propelling QPR back out of it at their expense. (© Independent News Service)

Blackburn v Manchester Utd,

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