Manchester United shouldn’t have needed David de Gea to produce one of the finest performances of his career to reach the Europa League final. But they did.
After beating Roma 6-2 in the first leg at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were expected to breeze through to the final in Gdansk.
A 3-2 loss on the night and an 8-5 victory on aggregate doesn’t sound particularly nervy but they had De Gea to thank for keeping Roma at arm’s length – quite literally.
The Spaniard has found himself behind Dean Henderson in the Man Utd goalkeeping pecking order in recent months but was given a start against the Italian club on Thursday.
And he responded by making an incredible 10 saves during a Man of the Match performance to seal United’s passage to the final.
Nine of those 10 saves were made inside the penalty area as De Gea showed off his incredible reflexes.
“We kept losing the ball in difficult positions but luckily we have got one of the best goalkeepers in the world,” Solskjaer told BT Sport after the match.
“David was vital and was man of the match for me. He was the stand-out performer. The final is still three weeks away and we’ve got many games still to play.
“David has put a very good application in of course with his performance. The proof is always on the pitch. You’ve got to perform, and you keep your place in the team when you play well.”
However, not everyone was willing to heap praise on De Gea after the match.
Former Man Utd player Henrikh Mkhitaryan played 90 minutes for Roma and was denied on a number of occasions by his former teammate.
There was one save in the second half that left the Armenian incredibly frustrated. Mkhitaryan met Pedro’s cross and, from three yards out, somehow managed to kick the ball straight at the goalkeeper as he rebounded off De Gea’s legs and away from danger.
Mkhitaryan reacted as if to say ‘How has that not gone in?’
But, after the match, Mkhitaryan appeared to have found the answer.
As Juan Mata points to De Gea in response to his incredible saves, the Roma midfielder can be heard exclaiming ‘He just stands there’ before giving the shot-stopper a little look.
Claiming De Gea ‘just stands there’ is doing him a massive disservice. Yes, he may have been fortunate that some of Roma’s efforts were straight at him but he ensured he was always in the right position and made himself big to make those saves.
Perhaps if Mkhitaryan and his teammates had their shooting boots on, they would have been having a very different conversation at the final whistle.
Manchester United MUST win the final (The Football Terrace)
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