Premier League Playback: Is David De Gea the best ‘keeper in the world?

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DE GEA: SIMPLY THE BEST?

In the press box at Old Trafford on Sunday, we all kept looking at each other in disbelief and laughter began to emanate after a while as the same pattern kept playing out. Liverpool went clean through on goal. David De Gea saves. Again and again. Six times he thwarted the Reds in similar fashion as Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli could not get past the United ‘keeper.

[ RELATED: United lucky, clinical as De Gea excels ]

At the age of 24 (which is still remarkably young for a ‘keeper) De Gea is in the form of his life. He was awarded the Player of the Month trophy before the game at Old Trafford and spurred his team to victory as the Red Devils were lackluster but clinical in their 3-0 victory over bitter rivals Liverpool.

[ RELATED: Three things we learned from Man United 3-0 Liverpool ]

One of the big questions being asked after the match is: just how good is De Gea? Is he the best in the world? These four guys are right up there with him.

Here’s a look at his contenders for the crown…

  • Manuel Neuer – The man De Gea must get past, Germany and Bayern Munich ‘keeper is superb with his feet and has no weaknesses. Ballon d’Or candidate and the undisputed best, right now.
  • Thibaut Courtois – Still only 22, the Belgian and De Gea will likely be neck and neck for most of their careers. Very similar ‘keepers with their lanky limbs and love of foot saves. Potential to be the best in the world.
  • Hugo Lloris– French skipper is the ultimate ‘sweeper ‘keeper’ and despite not having the size of the others, his agility is remarkable. Reliable and dependable. Old school.
  • Joe Hart – Really coming into his own this season for City and England. Commanding his box and has cut out silly errors.

One of De Gea’s great strengths is his ability to make stops down low. For a big guy he gets down remarkably well and he leads the Premier League in shots saved with his feet (10) and is getting plenty of practice each and every game as United continue to put in lackluster displays and give away the ball cheaply, as the stats below show.

Speaking after the game, United’s manager Louis van Gaal did not want to single out De Gea for special praise but it was hard not to. His opposite number Brendan Rodgers hailed De Gea as a “world class goalkeeper” and without him, a sprinkle of luck and clinical finishing, there’s no way United would be in the third place in the PL and on a six-game winning spree.

“You can always say that some players are the most influential in a game and of course David De Gea has a big influence. He did it very well but I can mention others who were also very good and had a big influence,” van Gaal said.

As the young Spanish ‘keeper continues to grow, his influence at United is growing. From the shaky, lanky youngsters who turned up three years ago from Atletico Madrid, De Gea has transformed himself into one of the best ‘keepers in the world. If not the best. His contract situation at United is ongoing and with Real Madrid reportedly sniffing around for Iker Casillas long-term successor, the Red Devils need to lock down De Gea to a new deal.

Premier League Schedule – Week 16

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 4-1 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Burnley 1-0 Saints Recap and watch here
Chelsea 2-0 Hull City Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 1-1 Stoke Recap and watch here
Everton 3-1 QPR Recap and watch here
Leicester 0-1 Man City Recap and watch here
Man Utd 3-0 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-1 West Ham Recap and watch here
Swansea 1-2 Tottenham Recap and watch here
West Brom 1-0 Aston Villa Recap and watch here

DIVING EPIDEMIC WORSENING

Diving. Simulation. Cheating. Whatever you want to call it, the subculture of perverting the course of justice on a soccer pitch has become a subplot which often engulfs games not only in the Premier League, but worldwide. This epidemic has to disappear. But how will that happen? On Saturday, in the Premier League alone there were two hugely controversial moments involving simulation plus many others scattered along the way.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

Chelsea’s Gary Cahill was lambasted by Hull City boss Steve Bruce for taking a tumble in the box (in truth Cahill’s dive wouldn’t have looked out of place in Swan Lake) and elsewhere Sunderland’s Adam Johnson went down far too easily under minimal contact from James Tomkins to win a penalty. To say West Ham manager Sam Allardyce was apoplectic with rage is an understatement.

Managers will slaughter referees for “disgraceful” decisions in their post-game interviews, but the fact of the matter is, it is getting so difficult for refs to tell real fouls and simulation apart.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The speed in which the game is played means minimal contact will send a player off course or could cause them to hit the ground and the subculture which exists in the game encourages players to take a tumble if they feel contact in the box. The only way we can truly determine if there was an act of simulation is to have action replays available to a fourth-official who can then determine whether or not the referee got the decision correct. Has the problem gotten that bad that something like this is needed? It’s a drastic step, but it would help to eradicate and, more importantly, shame the culprits.

[ RELATED: Cahill in diving scandal ]

Growing up, I remember an extract from Paolo Di Canio’s book vividly. The former West Ham, Juventus, Lazio and AC Milan star was brought up through the youth system in Italy and remembered being told by coaches at a young age that if you felt any contact in the box, you must go down. When he moved to play in England along with the first wave of Italian players in the PL, Di Canio was often accused of diving as fans hadn’t seen that kind of playacting which was commonplace in Italy. The once laughable issue has become an epidemic. It has taken many years for the playacting and debauchery to creep into the English game but for some time now, whether we want to believe it or not, it has become commonplace. It has to stop.

The fact that Cahill, a no-nonsense English center back who is the last person you’d brandish a diver, is now at it proves the problem has got way out of hand. If Chelsea’s attackers Diego Costa, Willian, Oscar or Eden Hazard — who have all previously been accused of taking a tumble and in Costa and Willian’s case were booked for simulation on Saturday, while Oscar was called out by Mourinho for diving in a match vs. Southampton last season – had gone down the way Cahill did, not as much would be made of this.

The fact that an Englishman who typifies the qualities many purists feel is dying out in the game (honesty, integrity, grit and power) went down flailing his arms under no contact in the box has hit home the point that simulation is a real problem and it must be rectified before the point of no return is reached. Maybe that moment has already arrived.

ALTIDORE’S PL PAIN CONTINUES

On Saturday at around 3:45pm UK time, USMNT striker Jozy Altidore had a golden opportunity to put Sunderland 2-1 up vs. West Ham. Starting his second-straight game in the PL this season, the New Jersey native found some space at the back post and Sebastian Larsson found him with an inch-perfect cross. But as the ball fell to Altidore, he panicked. He could not sort his feet out and instead of volleying home from four-yards out, heading goalwards or thrusting any part of his body towards the ball, he froze.

source: Getty Images
Altidore’s struggles continue.

That was to be the last action of the first half and as the teams walked down the tunnel for the interval, Altidore looked to the sky in disbelief and was close to tears as his nightmare in the PL continues.

The stats are not pretty reading for the USA’s main striker. He has now scored just twice in 69 Premier League appearances during his career and his confidence looks to be at an all-time low. Yes, he does give the Black Cats an outlet as he works hard to hold the ball up and bring others into the game. But last season, for the most part, he never got the service up top to score goals. This season, whenever he has been given brief chances to play, he has better attackers around him to create openings. The former New York Red Bulls forward doesn’t look confident in his ability to convert them and his good form for the USMNT in friendly games to close out 2014 just isn’t converting to his club team.

Recently I asked U.S. national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann about Alitdore’s situation at Sunderland as the forward flourished against Colombia in a friendly. After hoping that Jozy would get more game time at Sunderland, here’s what else he had to say.

“I mentioned it to some people after the World Cup: If Jozy would have been fit, his form prior to the World Cup in the friendlies, I think he was a player for four, five goals in the World Cup,” said Klinsmann. “In the way we play, we look for him and feed him. Unfortunately he didn’t have that opportunity. It would have made a big difference for us. There’s no doubt about it.”

Praise from Klinsmann aside, Altidore now has a big decision to make in the coming weeks. He previously said he will look for an escape route from Sunderland in January if his game time does not increase. Well, Jozy’s game time is on the up but he is not making the most of it and according to reports on Monday he may be heading to the Bundesliga in January. More on that here.

Sat in England watching the national media observe Altidore’s miss, it was painful viewing for any sympathizer of the USMNT who knows what the 25-year-old is truly capable of. He was hung out to dry and made a laughing stock of on national television. It will be extremely difficult for Jozy to shake off those negative connotations from the English press but he has the ability to do so and is getting the game time. Now, he just needs the belief that he can succeed. As any pro will tell you, in difficult times that’s the hardest thing to rediscover.

QUESTIONS LOOM OVER LAMPARD’S LOAN

Frank Lampard scored his 175th Premier League on Saturday, joining Thierry Henry as the fourth-highest goalscorer in PL history. Lampard is the only midfielder in the top 10 and his latest milestone comes as the stunning Indian summer of his career continues.

[ RELATED: Lampard the hero for City ]

His goal secured a 1-0 win for Man City as the English midfielder has six goals in 13 games since securing his loan move from Major League Soccer’s newest side New York City FC to their sister club which is also owned by the City Football Group. Lampard’s arrival to MLS back in the summer was big news but now it is not so cut and dry as to when NYC FC’s Designated Player will be linking up with his new team. As his manager at Man City points out, it’s a complex situation but Lampard wants to stay.

“Frank is very important, one of the reasons he played today was it was important to refresh the team,” Pellegrini said. “Frank was very useful for us in that moment. Frank is a top player, he must continue scoring goals, he is great inside the box. We know exactly what we must do. Frank wants to stay, we want to keep him. We must resolve the problem with New York City and with the MLS.”

What are the options here? Okay, Lampard’s loan move is due to run out at the end of December as he was meant to head to the U.S. in early January as New York City prepare for their first season which kicks off in March 2015.

[ RELATED: Lampard to remain at City? ]

However Pellegrini wants Lampard to remain at City for as long as possible and hopefully until the end of the season in late May. That would mean Lamps would not suit up for his new team until over two months into the MLS season. That doesn’t do much for MLS’s global image, does it? After unveiling Lampard under much fanfare in Brooklyn in the summer, to have him show up a few months into the season after a full season in the PL under his belt, that’s not ideal.

source: AP
Lampard celebrates yet another goal for Man City. Will he ever move to NYC FC?

As discussions continue, the most likely outcome will be that Lampard extends his loan until the middle of February.

That way he can play for City when they head to Chelsea on Jan. 31 and he can say a final farewell to his adoring fans at Stamford Bridge where he became the clubs all-time leading scorer and won every trophy possible. New York City FC then head on a 10-day preseason tour in Manchester in early February so Lampard could link up with his new teammates and still play for City, before returning to the U.S. with them.

That is the most logical option. But right now Lampard is helping to spearhead the Citizens’ charge towards a second-straight title and as injuries continue to ravage their squad and spending is capped under Financial Fair Play regulations, it wouldn’t surprise me if they not only tried to keep Lampard for longer but brought in David Villa (NYC FC’s other Designated Player) for a few months as they currently have no fit strikers. Who knows?

One thing’s for sure, Lampard’s legend continues to grow in the PL and across the globe. His teammates at Man City don’t want him to leave, the fans don’t want him to leave and neither does City’s manager. Lampard is in a very tricky situation, as the issues of dealing with multi-club ownership rears its head for MLS, City and NYC FC.

Premier League Playback comes out every Monday as PST’s Editor and Lead Writer takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Report: USMNT keeper Steffen to be Man City No. 2 next season

Zack Steffen Man City
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United States men’s national team starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen will not be loaned by Manchester City next season, according to ESPN.

Steffen, 25, is set to back up Ederson for Pep Guardiola’s side next season after a year on loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga.

Steffen needed the loan because he had not yet qualified for a work permit in the United Kingdom. Instead, he starred in plenty of games for promoted Fortuna before suffering a nagging knee injury. Fortuna was relegated to 2.Bundesliga on the final day of the season.

[ MORE: Man City sets a very Pep record ]

There were rumors earlier this year that Claudio Bravo might head for New York City FC in MLS in order to make way for Steffen.

The 17-times capped USMNT bolted for Freiburg in Germany after making his name at the University of Maryland. He returned to the U.S. and became a star with savvy penalty-stopping ability with now-USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter and the Columbus Crew.

Guardiola has usually given his No. 2 plenty of time to shines in cup matches, and City expects to compete for every trophy it can. If the club’s European ban is upheld, however, there will far fewer matches on the schedule for the serial Champions League qualifier.

Sheffield United – Chelsea preview: How to watch, start time, stream, prediction

Sheffield United - Chelsea preview
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Sheffield United – Chelsea preview: Frank Lampard’s Chelsea begins life defending third place on the Premier League table when it visits Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday (Watch Live at 12:30 pm ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues’ 60 points are one more than Leicester City and two clear of old rivals Manchester United.

Also of interest to Chelsea and USMNT fans: The Blues have posted a 20-minute video of every Christian Pulisic touch since Project Restart began earlier this Summer.

Sheffield United beat Wolves at midweek to pull within a point of sixth-place. If Blades stumble, there are three teams within a win of pushing them back beneath the Europa League places.

STREAM SHEFFIELD UNITED – CHELSEA LIVE


Team news

Billy Gilmour is a doubt for Chelsea while Mateo Kovacic is back in training and could be available to Frank Lampard. N’Golo Kante remains out and Jorginho may get a Starting XI recall on Saturday.

John Fleck, Luke Freeman, and John Lundstram are out for Sheffield United while David McGoldrick is a question mark.

What they’re saying

Blades boss Wilder to our own JPW after a 1-0 win over Wolves: “We like to think we’ve brought something in terms of our attitude and our performances to get the results that we’ve got. We had a stretched squad and really had to dig in to get a result. I don’t think you get the result and the performance tonight if you haven’t got something with the ball and I think we did have something with the ball and out of it everybody did a job and tried to stop a very, very talented side from gaining momentum and dominating us. Second half, especially, we looked and it felt like we were really desperate to go and get a winner. Regardless of how late its come, we’ve been rewarded for that attitude.”

Chelsea’s Frank Lampard on Christian Pulisic earning Eden Hazard comparisons: “Having played with Eden, he had special talent straight away and draws players towards him to open up space to others. Christian is more direct. He has the ability to break a line and run forward which is a great trait in the modern game. Why I shy away from it the other night is because Eden has been here and done it over a period of time to an incredible level. Christian has it in his hands to make a real impact over time. It’s great to see him [doing well] but there’s a lot of development to come. Christian is taking responsibility to change games.”

Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds here)

The Blades are +575 underdogs according to DraftKings, with Chelsea -167.

A two-goal game for Tammy Abraham was only enough for a Chelsea point at Stamford Bridge when the sides met in a 2-2 draw earlier this season.

Prediction

Chelsea’s had one more days’ rest than the Blades and that seems plenty given the congestion this time of year. Give the Blues a 2-1 win.

How to watch Sheffield United – Chelsea

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBC
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Man United’s fear factor, title hopes return

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Manchester United have regained their fear factor since ‘Project Restart’ arrived.

The Red Devils beat Aston Villa 3-0 to become the first team in Premier League history to win four consecutive games by a margin of three of more goals.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Manchester United is an attacking juggernaut once again with Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford firing on all cylinders.

They are 17 games unbeaten in all competitions and this run means they are two points off third place and one point off fourth-place Leicester (who they play on the final day) as their quest for the Champions League looks likely to be successful.

Speaking after the game, Paul Pogba told Sky Sports that challenging for the Premier League has to be the standard Manchester United sets for itself.

After the win at Villa, ProSoccerTalk asked Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for his reaction to those comments.

“I’m sure Man United will mount a challenge and get back to winning the league. When that is going to happen, that is up to every single person here and how quickly we can make this process go. We are definitely improving as a team, developing but we have to remember we’ve come a long way in one season. Let’s just take Paul’s words into the dressing room and expect and demand more from each other every single day,” Solskjaer said.

This team is brimming with confidence and hunger, as they’ve scored 100 goals in all competitions this season and have playmakers and forwards who are creating 10 or 15 chances every game and have a largely sturdy defense.

When Manchester United turn up to play an opponent, there is now an inevitability they will win. Solskjaer knows all about that fear factor from his playing days, but does he feel other teams now fear them again?

“I don’t know about how teams feel when they want to play us but we scored three today and talking about goal difference, the defenders have done their job. We created chances and could have scored three, four or five more. Of course, you are happy with the way we create chances but we need to be more clinical though,” Solskjaer told ProSoccerTalk.

“Coming into half time 2-0 up, I don’t think our performance warranted a 2-0 lead but I thought second half we played really well. Of course we had the game where we wanted. They had to press and leave gaps and space but it is not easy, there is game after game  after game. We have to keep doing the right things on the pitch and off the pitch.”

Manchester United could easily finish this season by winning eight of their final nine games and it is these results against teams they ‘should’ be beating that will make the difference. Yes, they have a long way to go to reach the levels of Liverpool and Manchester City but they are on that path and making progress.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired the fear factor around Man United disappeared. Almost overnight teams felt like they could beat them, and did, under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

There have been shock defeats under Solskjaer too, but this feels different now. This feels different to brief winning spells and FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League trophies won under LVG and Mourinho.

This Man United side is relentless and Solskjaer not only wants to keep winning, but keep scoring goals too.

“We could have scored many, many more goals and we keep keeping clean sheets. We go into every game wanting to win. If you win 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0, it doesn’t matter, you get the points. Hopefully the goal difference won’t be the deciding factor in the end because we should have had 10 more goals the last few games,” Solskjaer said.

With Leicester City to come on the final day of the season in what could be the pivotal clash in deciding whether or not the qualify for the Champions League, the hunger and belief is evident among the Manchester United squad based on Pogba’s reaction.

“We are really pleased with ourselves but know we have to carry on. We talked before the game, we talked in training that we have to carry on. That’s what Manchester [United] is it is a big club. We want to keep the level up, always, and the performance today and the past few weeks, they are very good and they are the standards of Manchester United,” Pogba said. “We didn’t win the Premier League and that is the goal. We didn’t win anything this year. We have to keep working and there is a lot to do. A lot.”

Pogba: Manchester United hoping to win FA Cup, Europa League

Aston Villa - Manchester United recap
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Paul Pogba and Manchester United are cruising through matches and sending a message to the Premier League.

The Red Devils won by three-or-more goals for the fourth-straight match, something that hasn’t been done in the history of the PL, and moved within a point of fourth place thanks to a 3-0 demolition of Aston Villa at Villa Park on Thursday.

[ RECAP: Aston Villa 0-3 Man Utd ]

Injured for most of the year, Pogba scored his first goal of the season in the win. He’s been looking tremendous in the midfield since returning from the coronavirus pause, and has even triggered hope that he’ll sign a new long-term deal with United.

Pogba was asked how he’s feeling about his time at Old Trafford and where it may run:

“Right now I’ve been injured for a very long time,” Pogba said. “I focused on myself to get back and help the team as much as I can. This year I have two goals, to go for the Europa League and the FA Cup so we focus on that.”

United faces Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinal and has one foot, well, most of its body in the Europa League quarterfinals.

The Frenchman says it’s good that the Red Devils are playing as well as they have been, but he’s not getting carried away with accolades.

ASTON VILLA – MANCHESTER UNITED FULL MATCH REPLAY

“We didn’t win the Premier League,” he said. “That’s the goal. We didn’t win anything this year so obviously we have to keep working. There’s a lot to do.”

Pogba thinks United can achieve all of their season goals regardless of what the top four chasers do, but cautioned that the Red Devils cannot ignore their poor start to Thursday’s win.

“We are our own enemy. We have to play not like we did the first 15 minutes but how we finished the game.”