- David de Gea has left Manchester United after 12 years of service at the club
- According to the data, it appears to be a smart move by those in charge at Old Trafford
- United have reached an agreement to sign Andre Onana from Inter Milan
Manchester United’s handling of David de Gea’s departure after 12 years at Old Trafford can certainly be questioned.
However, the decision they ultimately reached to replace him should be a minor point of discussion.
Especially if Andre Onana continues to succeed De Gea in the way he is expected to.
“It could be a big signing in terms of style and where Manchester United can go,” said Dr. John Harrison, an increasingly prominent authority in the world of goalkeeping analysis.
‘Andre Onana is exactly the goalkeeper profile they were looking for.
‘It’s potentially the kind of move they need to make to go from the top four and winning trophies to challenging for a title and going far in the Champions League.
‘De Gea was a very solid goalkeeper if you want to be around the top four, but over the course of the season you will face more shots with him than you would if you had someone in goal who was better at preventing that shots are fired in the first place.
‘And if you can’t use the goalkeeper in the build-up as much, it limits what your team can do. Onana, Manchester United fans will hope, is a ceiling lifter so you can move that level up.’
Harrison is Head of Data Science at Goalkeeper xG (Goalkeeper.com), who devised a model that allows them to quantify everything stoppers do and better explain the impact of their actions.
Their expertise informs football authorities and clubs operating at the highest level of the game worldwide.
Through their research, Goalkeeper xG explores the position in even greater depth and can conclude, among other things, whether correct decisions are made by goalkeepers or whether certain shots must be saved.
They are also able to identify the ideal type of goalkeeper that different clubs need based on the type of situations they often face.
In United’s case, 68 per cent of De Gea’s workload last season was shot-stopping, 28 per cent was shot prevention and just four per cent was distribution.
Meanwhile, in those categories, Goalkeeper xG’s results had De Gea as the Premier League’s fifth-best shot-stopper out of 39, 36th when it came to shot-preventing actions and 20th in terms of distribution.
“He wasn’t the worst goaltender in the league,” Harrison said. ‘He was 10th overall, so in the top quarter. But for Manchester United and for a guy on £375,000 per week, they don’t want a guy in the top quarter … they need someone in the top two or three.
– In terms of replacing De Gea and not renewing his contract, I think it was sensible from United.
‘When he was in his prime and the No. 1 shot stopper, it made up for the fact that he was an average distributor and poor preventer.’
However, that is no longer the case now.
A big and consistent problem for De Gea was the style change Erik ten Hag wanted to implement, which he often looked uncomfortable with.
United took many more short goal kicks and put increased pressure on whoever was between the posts.
It was also notable how Ten Hag’s plans to play a higher line were scaled back, they reduced how often they passed the ball back to De Gea and also played out from the back due to the Spaniard’s limitations.
Those plans will be back on the agenda again now with Onana’s style in stark contrast to De Gea’s.
He came through Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, but arrived there already with some of the qualities synonymous with their players – an ease in possession, in his case, using either foot to play short or long.
One of the big things he worked on at Barcelona was how to read the game and pick out an unmarked teammate when distributing, something he showed on the biggest stage in the Champions League final against Manchester City.
Meanwhile, watching Manuel Neuer at the 2010 World Cup was also a game-changer for a young Onana, who was inspired by the German’s sweeper-keeper style.
Harrison said: ‘If they sign Onana, I expect the distribution percentage to be much higher because they will throw back more, the shot prevention through cross-claims and sweeps will increase and I imagine he will face more through balls than last season. . De Gea faced very few, and it is connected with the team playing deeper, as cowardice was not one of his strengths.
DE GEAS SUMMARY FOR 22/23 SEASON
Overall goalkeeping performance: +1.90 goals (ranks 10th best overall goalkeeper out of the 39 GKs set to play in the PL this year)
Overall Shot Stopping Performance: +5.89 goals (5th)
Total Shot Prevention: -3.91 goals (36th)
Total distribution: -0.08 goals (20th)
Statistics from Goalkeeper xG /Goalkeeper.com
‘Onana will help Manchester United recycle the ball and retain possession, but he also has an eye for a killer pass and the composure to lure opposition teams in and then unlock defences, making it easier for the attacking players in his side.
– The teams do not want to be attacked by Man United and will try to sit and make a deep block.
“But if they’re facing a goalkeeper who just keeps going upfield with the ball, they’ve got to pressure him at some point. If he’s calm enough to play good passes and not just automatically long, it should be a recipe for success.’
As impressive as he is with his feet, Harrison is keen to stress that such was De Gea’s workload. Onana won’t get away with not being good with her hands.
He may not be quite at the top of De Gea in that sense and Harrison expects United’s success in that area to fall with Onana, which could call into question if the gap is too great.
But Harrison said: ‘He might not save you the odd game like De Gea would, but over 38 games in a season he had to face far fewer shots than De Gea would because of his pro activity and the fact that he’ will allow Manchester United to keep more of the ball.’
That view might annoy traditionalists, but Harrison explained: ‘Being a good shot-stopper is essential and the most important part of goalkeeping, but not everything.
‘Saving a shot is the last thing a goalkeeper should do and potentially you could have done something sooner. An elite shot blocker can be just as good as a good shot stopper.
‘Onana will be a fantastic addition to the Premier League. It will be super exciting to see him.
‘He just wants to keep pushing the boundaries of goalkeeping further and further.’
Doing it the way the 27-year-old does means the mistakes may well come with the territory.
Onana’s approach is high risk, high reward, with some bold decisions taken and positions taken up.
He is well aware of the dangers, but relishes the pressure and is not afraid, believing that it is all worth it if his actions result in his team ending up in advantageous situations.
Ironically, the last time he felt fear on the pitch was the 2017 Europa League final, when his young Ajax side froze against United’s senior stars. He then promised, never again, which is good news for United now that he has joined them.
Harrison added: ‘He might do an Alisson [when he joined Liverpool]hit the ground running and be just fine.
“But I also wouldn’t judge him too harshly on a few early mistakes if he makes them because he’s definitely one of those goalkeepers who is so proactive that the good will outweigh the bad in the end.
– For Manchester United and their fans it will be exciting. He’s one of those goalkeepers you’d pay money to see because you want to see what he’s doing.’