Manchester United vs. Real Madrid: David De Gea Will Star in UCL Clash

Dan Talintyre@@dantalintyreSenior Analyst IIFebruary 13, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 20: David De Gea of Manchester United celebrates as Robin van Persie of Manchester United scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane on January 20, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

When Manchester United takes the field against Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League during the week, there won't exactly be a shortage of big names.

The Red Devils will have their star attacking duo of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie; Madrid will have its weapons in Mesut Ozil and superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

Yet despite all the big names and borderline celebrities that will take the field at the Bernabeu Stadium on Wednesday night, it won't be any of those players that turn out to be the true star—that honor will go to the much maligned Manchester United goalkeeper, David De Gea.

The 22-year-old has suffered his fair share of criticisms throughout the year so far, and had left many wondering whether he would even be United's No. 1 goalkeeper because of it.

Inconsistencies with the high ball, poor dealing with crosses and fumbling shots on goal that allowed United's opponents simple tap-ins—it hasn't been great for De Gea at times this year.

Calls for Sir Alex Ferguson to replace him had rung in from all over the place, with transfer rumors suggesting the Spaniard might be outbound at United.

The veteran manager had of course backed his star shot-stopper and dismissed the rumors, but that still won't have eased the problem and the doubts for De Gea. The transfer rumors weren't going away after all, and neither were the crosses that he was left flapping helplessly for at times in the year.

Yet De Gea kept his head down and kept working hard, and has come out the other side of it better than he was before. Perhaps not physically, but mentally he is far more stable and confident than he was in the middle of his form slump.

And in Spain, against a Spanish team that is a thousand miles away from the place that he now calls home, expect De Gea to be the difference maker for United.

The Spanish international will be back in familiar territory, having spent several years in Madrid playing for Atletico in La Liga. That will no doubt help his confidence, with playing at the Bernabeu something he is perhaps more accustomed to than other players on the team.

However, the style of the game will suit De Gea a lot more here.

In England, the vast majority of the game is very physical. For goalkeepers it tends to involve a lot more crosses and high balls than other leagues.

Spain, for example, centers in on through balls, attacking angled runs and shots—all of which will involve De Gea's reflexes and not his aerial skills. Which, if we've seen anything from his time at Old Trafford, plays right into the strengths of the Spanish international.

The lack of crosses in particular will be huge for De Gea.

Madrid, both as a team and individually, is not a great crossing team in terms of the numbers that it whips in but also its effectiveness in crossing. That should greatly benefit De Gea here, in terms of the raw numbers of crosses he will have to deal with throughout.

His reflex-based game will be much better suited to the style of play that Madrid will adopt, and he can be the star for United at the back because of it.

According to the latest odds, Manchester United isn't expected to win against Real Madrid; De Gea is expected to get beaten more than once.

The goalkeeper could just prove both of those theories to be very wrong with a huge night at the Bernabeu Stadium this week. 

Will David De Gea record a clean sheet against Real Madrid?

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