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United paying a very high price on and off the pitch for extending De Gea stay



Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea. Photo: PA

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea. Photo: PA

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea. Photo: PA

The first thing to say about David De Gea at Manchester United is that he is not going anywhere, at least not any time soon. The 'keeper's position may be under threat after his latest error-strewn display compounded a shambolic show from United in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea, but that is very different to his future at the club being in jeopardy.

Unless United are prepared to start paying another club an awful lot of money for De Gea not to play for them, as they are doing with Alexis Sanchez at Inter Milan, or there happens to be a side out there able to cough up £375,000 a week for a crisis-torn goalkeeper in these financially troubled times, the Spaniard is staying put.

Which makes this more about how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer manages a potentially very expensive problem, both on and off the field - one he has been doing his best to downplay publicly for obvious reasons.

Yet as Solskjaer and United's hierarchy watched Mason Mount's shot squirm in off De Gea a minute after the restart on Sunday, they cannot say they did not see this coming. The club have started to get a lot more right than they get wrong, but the decision to hand De Gea that eye-watering new contract last September, when he was in poor form and had started to lapse as far back as the 2018 World Cup finals with Spain, was hard to fathom.

Were they scared of losing De Gea for nothing with his previous deal due to expire this summer? There was hardly a queue of clubs lining up to take him, and committing £78m in wages over the next four years seemed a false economy when they had a quality back-up in Sergio Romero to buy them time, and Dean Henderson developing nicely on loan at Sheffield United.

It was not as if United had no options in the position and, 10 months on, their reluctance to see the signs with De Gea and act ruthlessly - as Solskjaer has done in other positions - feels costly.

Talk of United mounting a title challenge next season, which had gathered an unhealthy momentum before the Chelsea game, got a reality check. United have the bones of a championship-winning team, and their attack - while still in need of reinforcements - is exciting.

But no side has won the title without the right defensive foundations and United have neither the goalkeeper nor centre-half pairing to provide the consistency and mettle required of champions.

Victor Lindelof's lack of aggression and suspect positioning were again evident in the way Olivier Giroud ran across him too easily for Chelsea's first goal, even if De Gea could have done better, and it was one of those afternoons when, at £85m, Harry Maguire looked, well, overpriced.

The England defender has improved United's defence, though, and would benefit from a centre-half with more pace, presence and tactical nous alongside him. Solskjaer is in the market for one but then so are all of his rivals and they are not exactly in plentiful supply.

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At 29, De Gea will feel he still has time on his side but, even if he recovers some form and confidence, there are wider questions about his attributes and overall suitability to the way United want to play.

In goalkeeping terms, the game feels like it has moved on and De Gea has been left behind, in much the same way as seemed to happen with Joe Hart at Manchester City.

Solskjaer wants to play out from the back and that has exposed De Gea's suspect distribution. He looks positively Jurassic with the ball at his feet compared to Manchester City's Ederson or Alisson, the Liverpool goalkeeper who has been as crucial to Liverpool ending their 30-year wait for the title as centre-half Virgil van Dijk.

But there are other issues, too. De Gea has never been the most vocal or inspired confidence aerially, but the lapses in concentration - particularly when dealing with shots from distance - are becoming more and more prevalent.

If that mistake for Mount's goal felt familiar, it is because we have seen versions of it numerous times over: Tottenham last month and Crystal Palace earlier in the season; Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Barcelona last term, and even as far back as June 2018 when he gifted Cristiano Ronaldo a goal for Portugal at the World Cup.

Solskjaer has said he will make a decision on Henderson's future at the end of the season. Before then, he must decide whether to keep faith with De Gea, or draft in Romero, for United's final two Premier League games, against West Ham tomorrow, and Leicester four days later, knowing more cheap errors could damage the club's Champions League qualification hopes.

But, whatever he decides, De Gea is going to be hanging around for a good while yet, a problem United will hope does not take on a Sanchez-esque colouring.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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