Desperate David de Gea gives Sir Alex Ferguson the wrong kind of surprise birthday present

By Rob Stewart at Old Trafford

If anything could sum up what has been a helter-skelter 2011 for Manchester United fans then it would have to be the shock 3-2 defeat by lowly Blackburn Rovers. In many ways it was the last year in microcosm when it came to matches at Old Trafford.

It was impossible to make sense of things right from the moment the official team-sheets were dispatched to the media room and it emerged Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs had been given the day off and Anderson would be on the bench while David de Gea would play instead of Anders Lindegaard.

From that point on it was clear that this would be an extraordinary day that was in keeping with much that had already been witnessed by regulars at the Theatre of Dreams lately and that feeling was underlined when Rafael Da Silva and Ji-Sung Park were stationed in central midfield while Michael Carrick and Phil Jones were assigned central defensive roles..

Even though it was a patched up United team due to injuries, the odds were stacked against Rovers but Sir Alex Ferguson’s strategy helped ensure that the year ended in a similar vein to much that had already been seen at the famous old stadium over the last 12 months as this game summed up everything insane about matches and key moments at Old Trafford in the year passed.

The tone for what would turn into an incredible 2011 was set when Kenny Dalglish’s first game in charge on his return to Liverpool brought a second minute penalty and a sending off for Steven Gerrard in an FA Cup tie between the arch-rivals in early January.

A month later Rooney maintained the craziness with that fabulous overhead kick past a rooted-to-the-spot Joe Hart that defeated Manchester City and propelled United towards their record-breaking 19th domestic title

Then there was the Javier Hernandez 36-second goal against Chelsea in what was essentially the title-winning game.

There was no end to the madness the following season as United crushed Arsenal 8-2 and then beat Chelsea 3-1 in a game that saw the best and worst of fallen hero Fernando Torres as he scored and was then guilty of posting a contender for miss of the season.

And then there was the 3-3 draw with Basel and the 6-1 defeat by the noisy neighbours at City in late October that ended a run of 19 straight home Premier League wins as 2011 turned into annus topsy-turvy.

The notion that this was a strange season was reinforced as Sir Alex’s players failed to rise to the occasion when he celebrated 25 years in charge of the club with a flat performance in a 1-0 win over hapless Sunderland.

And so those that headed to Salford for the end-of-year bash against Rovers should have known that it would have been unusual given everything else that had taken place in 2011 and thanks mainly to the 21-year-old De Gea that proved to be the case

Vanishing act | David De Gea is nowhere to be seen as Grant Hanley heads home

As birthday presents go, the one the former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper presented to Sir Alex on his 70th birthday when he flapped at Morten Gamst Pedersen’s corner and allowed Grant Hanley to nod in Rovers’ winner could not have been much worse.

When a ponderous De Gea was caught out, he ruined all the good work by English football’s comeback kings after Dimitar Berbatov had cancelled out Yakubu’s brace and United were heading back to the top of the Premier League.

In keeping with the madcap year, there was still time for another bizarre twist as Phil Jones’ goal-bound effort was blocked by a team-mate, named Keane – William not Roy.



In the end, the birthday celebrations fell flat as the flapping, flailing De Gea’s vulnerability at set-pieces was ruthlessly exploited by Steve Kean’s team and it might make Sir Alex think twice about selecting the Spaniard before Lindegaard when United face Newcastle on Wednesday on Tyneside.

Toon boss Alan Pardew is certain to target the Under-21 international at corners and free-kicks and with that in mind De Gea would probably be better off on the bench or on the training ground as Sir Alex tries to get his team back to winning ways. There is no question that the young keeper is struggling to come to terms with the physical demands of the Premier League and the emphasis on crossing and set-pieces.

No one is saying the 21-year-old will not come good because Sir Alex is adept at honing young talent but he might benefit from being taken out of the firing line for now.

In total he has conceded 26 goals in 19 appearances for United and kept just six clean sheets.

On the other hand, the 27-year-old Lindegaard looks a safer pair of hands and has six clean sheets to his name and has been beaten just once in seven games.

The statistics do not make pleasant reading for De Gea but maybe the fact that United paid £19 million for his services compared to a reported £3.5 million paid to Danish side Aalesunds for Lindegaard a year ago is keeping him in the team.

It is no wonder Sir Alex is finding it tough to choose between them and that is not necessarily a good thing.

The Scot is said to be torn between the two keepers when it comes to the fight for the starting slot but being caught in two minds will help United’s defence of their Premier League title about as much as it helped De Gea against Rovers.

United’s title successes in the past have been built on having a regular goalkeeper as a last line of defence in the shape of Peter Schmeichel, Fabien Barthez and then Edwin van der Sar but wavering between his goalkeepers could prove very costly.

There is no such issue over at the Etihad Stadium where Joe Hart is the undisputed No.1 for Roberto Mancini. That is one reason why it is advantage City in the Premier League title race as 2012 dawns.

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