Manchester City vs. Manchester United: David De Gea's Mental Toughness Is Key

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Manchester City vs. Manchester United: David De Gea's Mental Toughness Is Key
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Remember when we all wanted to crucify Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea?

My moment was New Year's Eve, when the Spanish youngster conceded not one, not two, but three goals to a pathetic Blackburn side.

I was convinced that Manchester United fans deserved a better 'keeper than what De Gea was showing at the moment. With the winter transfer window coming up, there was no better time than the present to find a suitable veteran replacement.

How wrong I was.

Even though De Gea was held out of the next three league matches, he bounced back against Chelsea, helping the Red Devils scratch out a draw at Stamford Bridge. Ever since, he's risen to the occasion for which he was brought to Old Trafford—compiling a 9-1-1 record in the 11 league matches that have followed, conceding an average of just 0.72 goals per game and collecting six clean sheets.

The 21-year-old has grown leaps and bounds beyond anything Sir Alex Ferguson imagined when he bought him from Atletico Madrid, showing off shot-stopping reflexes that are second-to-none and agility that no 6'4" goalkeeper should have.

But it's his mental toughness that was key to turning things around since that Blackburn match and will be essential in Monday night's Manchester derby between the top two clubs in the league table.

Manchester City will almost assuredly go up on their neighboring Red Devils.

The Blues do not play well from behind. In eight matches where opponents have scored first, Manchester City is a horrendous 2-4-2, winning only against Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea.

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Compare that with the 26 matches when they've scored first where the Blues are 22-1-3, losing only to Chelsea.

Roberto Mancini may be an Italian at heart and Italian sides love to play conservative, hold possession and play a 90-minute chess match. His offense, however, is on fire, scoring 12 goals in the last three matches. I'm betting Mancini will throw everything he has at Manchester United to make them as uncomfortable as possible as quickly as possible.

In short, Manchester United going down 1-0 early shouldn't be a shocker. Accept it now, Red Devils fans, and it'll be easier to swallow when it happens.

That's not to make light of how good the lads of Old Trafford have been lately. They've been fantastic. I say this merely to shift the importance of the match away from holding Manchester City early in the match to gauging De Gea's mental toughness.

De Gea's ability to bounce back will make or break Monday afternoon's match—and subsequently make or break the Red Devils' season and Ferguson's chance at collecting a fifth piece of Premier League silverware in six seasons.

Luckily for United fans making the trip to Etihad Stadium, De Gea is on top of his game mentally and has shown the fortitude to stare a mistake in the face, wipe himself off and say, "Let's have another go at that."

Passed up again and again for the Spanish national squad, conceding six goals against Manchester City in October, letting in a howler of a goal against Blackburn, riding the bench for a month, faltering against Athletic Bilbao in Europa play—these were all the growing pains of an inexperienced kid still on his country's U-21 squad.

But now he's grown into a player who has a long career ahead of him at Europe's finest clubs. In the future he might go back home to Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Who cares? For at least the next few years, that career goes through Old Trafford. In the long run, that's a good thing. In the short run?

Well, at least Manchester United fans can take solace in the fact that after Carlos Tevez or Sergio Aguero scores that opening goal, De Gea will wipe himself off and whisper confidently to himself: "Let's have another go at that."

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