David De Gea Quietly Coming of Age at Manchester United

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David De Gea Quietly Coming of Age at Manchester United
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Two years ago this week, Manchester United played Norwich at Old Trafford.

There were one or two nervous moments, but goals from Anderson and Danny Welbeck in the second half made it look like a routine afternoon against a side freshly promoted from the Championship. It finished 2-0, with not too much else to make it memorable.

For everyone except David De Gea, that is.

Signed for nearly £20 million that summer, the Spanish goalkeeper had been a first-team fixture until then. But he sat and watched the victory over Norwich from the bench.

It was the culmination of an eventful first two months in English football for the 20-year-old.

He learned quickly that there were as many bumps and bruises dished out off the field as on it.

He was told he was too young, too slight, too uncomfortable under the high ball.

He was hounded for punching rather than catching and saving with his feet rather than his hands.

He made mistakes, and for the first time he paid for them with his place when Norwich visited Old Trafford at the beginning of October.

Fast-forward two years, and everything has changed.

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De Gea is a Premier League champion, voted the best goalkeeper in the league by the PFA last season.

The reflexes are still there, as are the eccentricities. But they've been combined with a steeliness that is quickly making De Gea one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

David Moyes and United were thankful for him on Wednesday night in the Donbass Arena.

United were pegged back by Taison's equaliser, and the Brazilian forward might have stolen all three points for Shakhtar Donetsk had De Gea not tipped his fierce drive over the crossbar in the 86th minute.

As it was, when the final whistle blew, United had earned a creditable draw, and the pressure on Moyes eased ever so slightly.

But some United fans feared De Gea's form would dip this season. In the summer, Moyes replaced goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, who learned Spanish to better communicate with De Gea, with Chris Woods, with whom he'd worked at Everton.

David Ramos/Getty Images

But instead of faltering, De Gea has picked up where he left off last season. 

It's too early to suggest the 22-year-old is hitting new heights under his new mentor. But his performances have been a welcome highlight for Moyes in what has been a rocky start to his tenure.

He has developed so much both mentally and physically in the two years since that first chastening experience against Norwich that he is likely to be on the list of replacements when Victor Valdes leaves Barcelona this summer.

In October 2011, it seemed that only De Gea's failings would stop him becoming United's No.1 for the next 15 years.

Now, it looks like only unwanted advances from rival clubs can get in the way.

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