What’s the point in having a good No.2 if not to put pressure on the No.1? Sergio Romero has shown Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should do the unthinkable and drop David de Gea
One of the most exciting moments in Saturday evening’s turgid 0-0 draw between Wolves and Manchester United came as Matt Doherty flashed a volley from a corner towards the United goal. Initially it looked like Sergio Romero had just managed to get his body in front of it to keep the game goalless, but replays showed he had stuck his right hand out, in an impressive display of reflexes. The goalkeeper, the standard pick for United in their cup matches, looked unflappable throughout the ninety minutes.
The 32-year-old Argentinian has often been described as the finest No.2 in the Premier League since he joined Manchester United in 2015. Romero has been regularly forced to warm the bench as David de Gea consistently performed as one of the best goalkeepers in the league, if not the world. But in the past couple of seasons, De Gea has lost some of his magic touch. Take his mistake against Watford confirmed, as he let Ismaila Sarr’s volley bounce up from the ground and then through his waiting hands. It meant that De Gea had made more mistakes leading to a goal than any other player since the start of the 18/19 season, with six.
Until United beat Burnley on December 28, De Gea went 14 games without keeping a clean sheet – the longest run of his career. It would be harsh to blame that entirely on him – United’s defence have hardly looked rock solid in this season either. But in previous seasons, De Gea was their ‘Get Out of Jail’ free card. The star they could rely on when things wouldn’t quite click on the pitch. Saves to fill up highlight reels, including the incredible double save from Lacazette and Ozil where he equalled the Premier League record for number of saves with 14 in a 3-1 win against Arsenal in 2017. But his save percentage has dipped from 70 per cent + per season to 67.5 per cent in the past two – it’s his lowest since his first season at Atletico Madrid when he was 18-years-old.
De Gea has had poor patches before, often when he has had transfer rumours swirling around him, but with something not quite clicking at the moment, it seems a waste to leave Romero on the bench. Rotating goalkeepers seems to be more psychologically testing for both players and managers than in other positions but the refusal to do so partly defeats the purpose of having a back-up goalkeeper. The role should not just be seen as ‘in case of emergencies’ but should be used to motivate the first choice player, in the way the rest of the squad does.
Whilst rotating regularly can be a sign that a manager simply can’t pick between the two because neither of them are very good (see Jurgen Klopp rotating between Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet in 2017/18), dropping an out of form goalkeeper doesn’t have to be seen as an insult. Instead, it can be an opportunity for the player to get some rest and find out what might be going wrong with their game – whether psychologically or physically.
Romero has now kept 33 clean sheets in 52 appearances for Manchester United and Solskjaer admitted that he is putting pressure on de Gea. It is hard to judge for certain how he might perform in the Premier League given the diverse opposition he ends up facing in United’s cup runs. But if Solskjaer wanted to show he was taking managing United by the scruff of the neck, putting Romero in between the sticks might be a good way to start.
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