Manchester United 2011/12 position-by-position review: Goalkeeper

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 18: David de Gea of Manchester United celebrates his team's third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on September 18, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Throughout the upcoming week, I hope to be able to provide a review of each Manchester United player's 2011/12 season. I'll be segmenting posts in a position-by-position (goalkeepers, central-defenders, full-backs, central-midfielders, wingers, & strikers) manner and the first one up is for our goalkeepers. Each review will organized by the following:

* 'What we thought' - the general and overall expectations that we had for this position prior to the season.

* 'What we got' - On an individual basis, I'll provide a review of the season.

* What lies ahead?' - The outlook next season for the position and a discussion if reinforcements are needed.

Useful statistics are currently limited for goalkeepers but the table below provides some perhaps informative ones for United's this past season:

The Busby Babe

Appearances

Goals conceded

Saves

Save %

Pass completion %

Long Balls per game

Successful Long Ball %

DE GEA

Prem

29

29

102

77.9%

57.8%

4.38

37.9%

UCL

4

7

11

61.1%

59.8%

6.50

51.0%

LINDEGAARD

Prem

8

4

18

81.8%

58.2%

3.63

32.6%

UCL

2

1

7

87.5%

66.7%

9.00

47.4%

AMOS

Prem

1

0

2

100%

71.4%

5.00

55.6%

UCL

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

What we thought

If we are all honest, most of us would admit that we had little idea what to expect from the men between the posts for the 2011/12 season. What we did know though was that newly acquired David de Gea, or Anders Lindegaard, had enormous gloves to fill as the 2010/11 season was one that saw Edwin van der Sar end his career as arguably the outstanding goalkeeper in England -- and perhaps on the continent. There wasn't a weakness, only standout ability in all facets of goalkeeping: terrific shot-stopper, full command of his box, tremendous ability on the ball with his feet, and seemingly superb ability to organanize United's defensive shape.

Although de Gea began the season at just 20-years-old, his pedigree was impressive. He was already a Europa Cup winner from his time with Atletico Madrid and he was also a U-21 European champion from his time with that Spanish national team. Sir Alex Ferguson and the United scouting staff had been following the talented youngster for a few years and the believed £18 million transfer fee that the club paid for de Gea's services brought about tremendous expectation. However, not a lot was known about the Spaniard and there were concerns over his age and whether he was ready for the physicality of the Premier League -- the latter is a lesser concern elsewhere on the continent. As for Lindegaard, he was winning many fans over with his confident and pleasant personality but the Dane was an unknown too.

What we got

David de Gea - A mixed bag. But he was never as poor between August through December as most pundits claimed and he was certainly better between February through May than most gave him credit for. At least for the latter stretch, nearly all United fans seemed to unite in acknowledging de Gea's outstanding form during that time.

One could be forgiven if it seemed to them that pundits and neutrals were waiting to pounce on the skinny Spaniard if he were to make any early mistakes. Unfortunately, his indecisiveness during a cross for a Joleon Lescott header and his inability to deal with a savable shot from distance by Edin Dzeko during the Community Shield versus Manchester City at Wembley provided the spark for the criticism fire -- gasoline was poured on it a week later when he failed to deal with a savable shot by Shane Long in the league opener versus West Bromwich Albion. After blunders versus Basel and Blackburn, the Spaniard was benched just after the new year and Lindegaard got his opportunity.

The Dane soon sustained what turned out to be a season-ending injury and de Gea was back in goal as United's No. 1. From here, he sparkled. And perhaps the moment that turned his season around was this world-class save on a Juan Mata free-kick during stoppage-time of a 3-3 contest at Stamford Bridge:

David de gea great save versus Mata (Chelsea vs ManU) [HD] (via SoccerMH)

Although de Gea let a few savable shots pass him (almost all 'keepers have a mistake or two in them, at least, during a long season), he was generally superb in his stop-stopping and this perhaps is evidenced by his league leading 77.9% save percentage -- the best in the Premier League amongst those that appeared in over half of their side's league matches (league average was 69%). Perhaps this number was somewhat inflated by some teams looking to test him with shots from distance but his increible agility and quick reflexes provide the physical tools of a potential world-class goalkeeper.

de Gea's distribution was very good as well and this is hugely important for a side like United that always looks to work the ball out of the back if possible. His future involvement with Spain's national team will only help him in this regard. If the opposition's forwards closed down close-range outlets, de Gea showed good precision in targeting the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, or Antonio Valencia with long balls down the right touchline. If United had a physical target man up front, the Spaniard would likely be able to put the ball on his head too.

Undoubtedly, the biggest concern is de Gea's ability to command his box. He certainly struggled with this in the earlier portion of the season and the opposition began to target him -- particularly on set-pieces by crowding him. However, he improved as the season wore on and the club claimed that he had been putting on some weight through weight-training. In addition, his decision-making became much more decisive and for a player that is physically maturing at the moment, that perhaps is the best sign for encouragement. His improvement in commanding his box should be commended but he will have to continue to make strides in this regard and it should probably be his biggest emphasis of improvement during the summer offseason -- both physically and mentally.

Anders Lindegaard - The 28-year-old joined United quietly in January 2011 for a modest fee of £3.5 million or so. During United's preseason summer tour, Lindegaard confidently spoke of his desire to be United's No. 1, despite the considerable fee the club had just paid for de Gea. He was given a few starts here and there through the fall and early winter and he was eventually given his shot to be the No.1 after de Gea's mistakes versus Blackburn. Unfortunately for the Dane, he sustained ankle ligament damage during late January in training and it was serious enough to keep him out of the first-team for the remainder of the season. And it may have damaged his chances to be Denmark's No. 1 for the upcoming European Championships.

Lindegaard made 8 league starts and 2 Champions League starts this season and at the very least, he showed signs of being a capable Premier League 'keeper and he may even be starter caliber -- although this is mostly speculative due to the limited time fans and neutrals have had to observe and analyze him. His shot-stopping seems solid and he has a confident presence about him and because of the latter, he seemed to command to his box well. He's adequate enough with his short-distribution -- although his first-touch can be shaky when quickly closed down -- but his medium to long range passing was woeful at times. Overall though, he made a good impression in his first full season at Old Trafford.

Ben Amos - The third-choice youngster only made 4 first-team appearances this season -- 3 in the Carling Cup and 1 emergency Premier League start. Thus, it is impossible to provide much of a review of Amos' first-team season. The 22-year-old did everything necessary though in his league appearance versus Stoke City and that in itself should be applauded. Tony Pulis' tactics and uniquely physical side isn't exactly a soft-landing for an inexperienced 'keeper. By all accounts, the 22-year-old Amos is progressing nicely at this stage of his career.

What lies ahead?

It'll almost certainly be the same cast of characters next season and the roles will be same when August arrives. The immensely talented de Gea will be the No. 1 and he'll look to build on an encouraging debut season (when the context of his immense improvement is considered). Lindegaard will be ready to take the lead if the main man falters (hopefully after a successful Euros if given the chance) and Amos will look to further his development and see if he can earn himself a more prominent role at United -- or at least set himself up for an opportunity elsewhere. Overall, United are in a good situation at goalkeeper and they potentially have a world-class player in the making in de Gea. Admittedly though, it could go either way for the Spaniard at United and his 2nd-half season form will be expected for the entirety of next season.

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