David De Gea has been under incredible scrutiny in his Manchester United career so far. A few high-profile errors have raised questions as to his ability to cope with the physical nature of the game and whispers continue that he is unsettled in the North of England.
He chose the night that he returned home to face Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League to put in his best performance in a United shirt so far.
Any team playing away at Real Madrid knows they are going to come under pressure. Despite Madrid's poor La Liga form this season, a trip to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is still a daunting proposition.
28 shots rained in on the Manchester United goal, 14 of them on target. The hard work ethic that United required to face such an onslaught from the home team started with the player between the goalposts and filtered throughout the whole side.
Just a minute in to the game and the usually undemonstrative Spaniard was already berating his teammates for allowing Sami Khedira a shot on goal.
It was not wholly successful, as just two minutes later, Fabio Coentrao steered a shot goalwards, curling it around a congested penalty area. Somehow, De Gea spotted the shot through the crowd of players and flung himself out, stretching fully to deflect the ball on to the post.
The scene was set for him to have the kind of night that should finally begin to silence the doubters. Ex-United player Gary Neville, who has been particularly critical of De Gea in the past, was quick to describe the save as magnificent, and the United defence seemed to grow in confidence as well as discipline along with he Spaniard.
With the sheer number of shots coming in from Real Madrid, De Gea was kept busy, but thankfully for United the negatives in his performance were kept to a minimum—a couple of corners that he failed to connect his fist with and a free-kick late in the second half from Cristiano Ronaldo that went very close, but he appeared not to even move for.
As with that free-kick, there was no chance with the Ronaldo goal which came after half an hour either. The Portuguese, duty bound to score by the law of the ex-player, seemingly defied gravity for a few seconds to head in the equaliser just far enough out of the goalkeeper's grasp.
Aside from those moments, De Gea was solid for the most part and impressive for the rest. He was infused with the absolute resolution that he would not allow the ball to pass him and would stop it doing so by any means necessary. At times he throws himself acrobatically or contorts in to all sorts of unorthodox shapes to ensure that it doesn't, using any limb or body part.
In the 37th minute, Mesut Ozil found himself free to the right of the goal and fired in a shot. De Gea saved smartly to his left and on closer inspection appeared to punch the ball for a corner with his right hand whilst his left hand remained open to shield the direction in which it headed.
The most bizarre was yet to come. On the hour mark, Coentrao was denied by what could be described as a kung-fu,spider-monkey leap, De Gea scuffing the ball away to safety. By any means necessary, indeed.
United held on for a draw—and perhaps had the better chances to win the match. For David De Gea, though, the game served as the ideal opportunity to either prove his worth to his current team—or perhaps even to act as an audition to the likes of Barcelona.
He did not spurn that opportunity.
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