David de Gea was applauded by the few fans left in the Stretford End, hearing his name sung when he headed towards the tunnel after another disappointing Manchester United match on Sunday. 

It was disappointing for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team, who failed to pick up what would have been only a third win in 10 games against an average Chelsea side. More so for the Spaniard, who made the three points far less likely after his latest blunder.

That 43rd-minute error which gifted the Blues their equaliser changed the mood and the template of the game as United’s fragile confidence shattered, and the performance went with it. It had all started so brightly too, just as it did against Manchester City on the same pitch four days earlier. In the end, neither side deserved to win in a woeful second half.

It could get worse

I’ve never thought that any professional footballer goes out not to give 100%, and my eyebrows are raised whenever angry fans talk in clichés about a lack of passion, but United’s shattered players didn’t look like they wanted to win as the game went on. That, or they just weren’t good enough to. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said before Sunday’s game that his side must win. They didn’t. It’s Groundhog Day: not just with the manager playing Manchester United bingo with his catchphrases trying to rally his fatigued troops, but with the same old story of the season petering out into nothingness.   

This is now the norm for United – being sixth among the Big Six. There are concerns at the club that it will become seventh and then eighth, as United slip further thanks to muddled recruitment, ascendant established rivals and ambitious sides like Everton and Wolves below them. The former battered United last week, and the latter have outplayed United three times this season.

That’s where the club are right now, though fan expectations have taken a long time to lower. Yet how can a team that’s 26 points behind Liverpool and 28 behind Manchester City realistically expect to challenge for the title next term when they are finishing this one so poorly? City have picked up 16 points more than United in their last 10 games alone.

Given United’s botched signings this decade, it’ll take a brave soul to pin hopes of a revival on four or five new signings in the summer. That’s without changes of coaching staff. Things could get worse, not better.  

Don’t laugh. United were European champions in 1968 and relegated in 1974, even with world-class stars like George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton around. 

Reality check?

David de Gea is a world-class stopper too, but his mistakes are costly and his head, in Mancunian parlance, is clearly up his arse.

It’s not the first time. Louis van Gaal thought as much in August 2015, and dropped him because he knew he wanted to join Real Madrid. No player’s contract negotiation seem to drag on as much as De Gea’s. In mitigation, he’s entirely within his rights to sign when he wants – and if he wants to, even though several of United’s Spanish speakers are likely to leave this summer.

But him not signing in over a year of negotiations – and this is the second time this has happened – doesn’t help a club which needs it.  

United have offered to make him the best-paid goalkeeper in the world. De Gea’s agent has asked for more and parity with the grotesquely overpaid Alexis Sanchez. Then there are the vast agent’s fees which United consider eye-watering, even by the standards they’ve paid out assembling this collection of overpaid underperformers. 

They’re right to not give in to the ridiculous demands. Because while his brilliance had earned him more credit than any other United player, he’s not infallible either.

Peace of mind helps professional footballers, and De Gea’s negotiations are not giving it to him. He’s minded to stay – and has had support from United in 2011 (Ferguson sticking by him when few did), 2015 (acting professionally when Real Madrid had done their full strutting peacock turn to him via the Spanish media), and 2018 when he was welcomed back and supported after a poor time in Russia.   

And though De Gea’s standards slipped slightly for his club after the stellar levels fans had gotten used to, he was having a decent season until quite recently. But not now: the man who used to win points is now costing the team points.

His mistakes might contribute to costing United a Champions League place, but it could also benefit them, since he’s hardly making other giants covet him.

Time of change

Several of Manchester United’s players are concerned that there won’t be Champions League football next season. Poor them. They’ll take a significant wage cut for one, but it’s not like they’ll have anyone else to blame.

De Gea wants to play Champions League, too. He owes something back if, as looks likely, United fail to get there.   

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And who’s to say that the mistakes will just stop? Something is clearly wrong, and the doubts grow with every one. They are already regular for Spain, amid poor showings at Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.  

If he’s chosen to play in the final two league games against lowly Huddersfield and Cardiff, De Gea deserves – and will get – support from fans. 

If not, then Sergio Romero – who was rightly upset to lose his place in the team after doing well in 2015 – is a fine No.2. He’s wondering what on earth he must do to get a game and wants to play more first-team football, but the Argentina goalkeeper will struggle to get a contract as good as the one he’s on at Old Trafford.

United’s great wages which attracted players have become a blessing and a curse. 

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