West Ham to live another day but David de Gea’s time may be up at Manchester United
Sunday evening at seven o’clock is no time for a football match and so perhaps you could sympathise with David de Gea, whose laboured attempt to deal with Said Benrahma’s pea-roller here looked that of a man incapacitated by a full roast dinner and plenty of trimmings.
The mistake may yet come to haunt Manchester United in a top-four race that suddenly looks alive again, but tonight, it will be the toast of east London, having all-but assured West Ham’s Premier League survival.
A 1-0 victory sees David Moyes’s side climb to 15th, seven points clear of the drop with three games to go, and though the bottom three and Leicester are all yet to play this bank holiday weekend, that gap will not be closed by enough of the stragglers, particularly as the Hammers’ goal difference offers a further buffer.
Attention can now turn without guilt to a Europa Conference League semi-final against AZ Alkmaar, the first leg of which takes place at the London Stadium on Thursday, the novel possibility of this season ending with both European silverware and relegation from the top flight now surely dispelled.
The win, West Ham’s first over Big Six opposition all season, was entirely deserved, the Irons clearly not discouraged by the run of three successive defeats that had put the brakes on their spring revival.
Having weathered an early storm, when the visitors enjoyed freedom of the right flank and struck the post through Marcus Rashford cutting in from the left, West Ham defied a refereeing injustice more egregious than those that so infuriated Moyes in the losses to Liverpool and Crystal Palace last month, and then had two goals disallowed during a superb, dominant second-half display. De Gea’s howler was ultimately decisive, but this was the kind of performance that would have you baffled as to how the Hammers have taken until May to beat the drop.
Moyes’s men were better value than their one-goal victory, most explicitly because of the stonewall penalty denied them on the stroke of half-time. Having seen his goalkeeper somehow fail to keep out Benrahma’s opener on 27 minutes, Victor Lindelof got a far stronger hand to the Algerian’s cross, but when Peter Bankes’s whistle next blew it was, unbelievably, to signal the interval, rather than a VAR review.
There could be no complaints about Tomas Soucek’s header after the break being chalked for offside, but less clear-cut was the outstanding Michail Antonio’s foul on the hapless De Gea before hooking into a vacant net. Given the benefit afforded to goalkeepers, it was probably just about fair, but De Gea’s gamble in hitting the deck under such slight contact typified what was a feeble display.
De Gea has now made four mistakes leading directly to goals this season, the joint-most of any Premier League keeper alongside Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris, and for all the World Cup-winning Frenchman’s various qualities, his is not desirable company to be keeping when it comes to error count.
In style, De Gea’s blunder here was markedly similar to that which started United’s 4-0 embarrassment at Brentford back in August, when Josh Dasilva’s strike from distance somehow squeezed in. That hit at least had a degree of pace and intention behind it, though, whereas Benrahma’s rather hurried effort here was a last resort as the white shirts closed in.
De Gea had time to take a step to his right and delicately place his proverbial cap on it, a la the Archbishop of Canterbury. Instead, he panicked, went down too soon and ended up on the stretch, but even then had the tame shot comfortably within reach, only throw the flimsiest of hands at it.
The 32-year-old is out of contract this summer, but Erik ten Hag is reportedly keen to keep his No1 at the club, on the condition that he accepts a significant pay cut. Perhaps that is because there are more glaring flaws in this United side that need to be addressed, most notably up front, where Wout Weghorst started and extended his goalless League run to 14 matches since signing in January.
Even so, given Ten Hag’s other options at present are Jack Butland and Tom Heaton, United will surely sign a keeper of come description this summer and, even if he extends his 12-year stay, De Gea will start next season under significant pressure for his shirt. On this showing, and several others, it really ought to be redistributed before then.
The relief for West Ham is that when it comes to preparing their own strip for next term, there is now almost certain to be a Premier League badge on the sleeve.