Sunday’s game at Wembley was a reminder – not that we needed one – that the whole debate about who’s the best ‘keeper in the Premier League is about as pointless as Jamie Carragher’s commentary.
Spurs could still be playing United now, almost three days later and there’s little doubt the Reds would still have a clean sheet, such was David De Gea’s refusal to be beaten in what can only be described as the greatest goalkeeping performance that ground has ever witnessed.
For many De Gea’s rise from unsure youngster, to Edwin Van Der Sar’s heir apparent, to greatest goalkeeper on planet earth, has been a double edged sword, highlighting not just how good he is but how f*cked United would be without him. The fact he’s made the United player of the year awards, the annual David De Gea coronation, in the words of William “Bunk” Moreland, “makes me sick muthafucka how far we done fell.”
De Gea hasn’t just kept United from falling into a trophyless, European football-free abyss over the past seven years, he’s also produced saves so memorable they’ve had team mates and fans, carrying out the sort of celebrations normally reserved for last-minute winning goals – in cup finals.
Sunday was yet another tour de force performance in a long line of them from Spain’s finest export since Julio Iglesias, but it raises the question where does it rank in the overall list of United’s greatest ever displays between the sticks?
Here’s a top five of the times United’s number one left the opposition feeling like number two.
5. Alex Stepney v Benfica. Wembley 1968.
Just ten years after the devastation of the Munich air disaster, United cemented their place in history by lifting Europe’s greatest prize against one of the the continent’s most talented sides. While Bobby Charlton, a young Brian Kidd and George Best got the goals, it was a save from the former Chelsea man, Alex Stepney which kept the Reds in the game. With one of the greatest players ever to grace the game, Eusebio through on goal in the dying seconds of normal time and the game in the balance at 1-1, it looked as though United’s fairytale was about to come to an end. Stepney had other ideas though and while some may argue Eusebio more or less shot straight at him, they’d be wrong, they’re stupid, it was a great save, end of.
4. Peter Schmeichel v Newcastle. St James’ Park 1996.
The former cartwheeling Dane, has almost become ‘he who shall not be named’ to many United fans after his eventual defection to the Blue quarter of Manchester and his subsequent idiotic actions both in the colours of City and Aston Villa. Despite many Reds having turned their back on him, there’s simply no denying that for many years Schmeichel was excellent for United, with countless matches and trophies achieved in no small part thanks to his imperviousness between the sticks. Newcastle away in ’96 was arguably Schmeichel’s greatest-ever performance, with United trailing the Geordies by 12 points, anything less than a win for the Reds would have all but ended any title hopes for the ‘Class of 92.’ Eric Cantona gave United – Manchester United that is – the lead and then Schmeichel embarked on the kind of display that amazes and demoralises opposition attackers. No matter how many times Kevin Keegan’s side huffed and puffed, the Great Dane refused to let his house be blown down, the game ended 0-1 and the rest is history.
3. David De Gea v Arsenal. Emirates Stadium 2017.
It says something of David De Gea’s United career that you could probably fill this list five times over just with the exploits of Spain’s number one. De Gea has reinvented goalkeeping and is a candidate for the greatest shot stopper of all time, especially with his legs which are responsible for many a heartbroken striker. Whilst the recent trip to Wembley may, rightly have many of us purring, it was his performance in North London in 2017 that truly amazed as despite conceding once against the Gunners, he saved shot after shot, many of them ‘certain’ goals and left the Arsenal fans ranting into their cameras about how he was superhuman or possibly even a cyborg.
2. Roy Carroll v Arsenal. Villa Park 2004.
Just imagine for one minute the utter garbage we’d have to endure if the so-called Invincibles actually did go undefeated during the 2003-04 season and added the FA Cup to their last ever Premier League title? It’s bad enough having to listen to Gooners claim a side that was knocked out of all the cup competitions and drew 12 times in the league is somehow ‘the greatest the Premier League has ever seen,’ were it not for Roy Carroll it could have been much, much worse. Carroll may not go down as the most revered United keeper, but his performance in the FA Cup semi-final was one for the ages as he stopped everything Arsenal threw at him, including an absolute wonder save from a Kolo Toure header.
Sir Alex was so grateful for Carroll’s heroics he even game him five minutes at the end of the FA Cup final, bringing him on for Tim Howard with the Reds 3-0 up against Millwall. A cameo that was more than deserved after such a seminal semi-final display.
1. Edwin van Der Sar v Chelsea. Luzhniki Stadium 2008.
One of the biggest debates when it comes to Edwin van Der Sar isn’t whether he’s United’s best-ever keeper [at the time of writing he is until David De Gea eventually overtakes him, don’t @ me], it’s whether he was actually smiling when he was diving to save Nicolas Anelka’s penalty.
On a rain-soaked night in Moscow with United on the verge of doing what only one other Premier League team had achieved before – the Reds in ’99 – van Der Sar produced a save that gave Sir Alex his second Champions League and underlined his reputation as the world’s greatest manager. Van Der Sar’s performance that night may not have been his best but for producing the match-winning penalty save – not to mention the coolest celebration ever, he deserves his place at the top of this list.