Courtesy of ESPN
LONDON — Manchester United do not tend to play their first-choice goalkeeper in the FA Cup. After David De Gea‘s performance against Chelsea at Wembley, the jury is now out on whether they did so in this FA Cup semifinal.
De Gea made his first appearance in the competition since the 2018 final, a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in which Eden Hazard scored the only goal of a drab game. This latest meeting of two clubs with a combined 20 FA Cups followed a similarly meandering pattern until a prolonged first-half stoppage-time period following a head injury sustained by United’s Eric Bailly.
The defender was stretchered off, and, with his side having switched from three centre-backs to 4-3-3, Chelsea struck in the 11th added minute, Willian released Cesar Azpilicueta down the right, and the Chelsea captain found Olivier Giroud with a driven cross that the striker met with a deft near-post flick. De Gea had only a moment to react but could only slow the shot as he fell backward, allowing the ball to dribble over the line.
If there was any doubt the goalkeeper had already become the fall guy, he made sure with a dreadful error moments into the second period. Brandon Williams passed the ball straight to Mason Mount, who charged infield before firing a speculative, 20-yard drive that possessed only minimal swerve. De Gea, though, was slow reacting to his left, and the shot went in off his fingertips with embarrassing ease.
United were second-best all over the pitch throughout this game and may well have lost regardless, but De Gea helped give Chelsea the initiative and, in doing so, turned scrutiny upon himself at the end of a week that began with him reaching 400 appearances for the Old Trafford club.
Between 2013 and 2018, De Gea was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year five times and won United’s Players’ Player of the Year award three times. In the midst of those awards, he almost joined Real Madrid in 2015, only for a now-infamous broken fax machine to scupper the deal.
United breathed a huge sigh of relief, perhaps a sense that lingered when he was handed a £375,000-a-week contract two years ago, running to 2023. De Gea should be in his prime, and time remains on his side to prove he can recapture his old form, but there have been many times this season — before Sunday’s howler — that suggest the rot has set in.
Mistakes against Watford, Everton, Tottenham and Bournemouth have continued a decline that began some time ago. Playing him against Chelsea was designed to add stability amid a formation change, but instead cost United a place in the final.
Back-up Sergio Romero faced Wolves twice, Tranmere, Derby and Norwich earlier in the competition and conceded one goal; indeed, the 33-year-old has nine clean sheets in his past 12 games. The level of opposition may have been lower than Chelsea, but his concentration must remain, which cannot be said of De Gea at present.
“I can’t speak for David De Gea’s confidence, but he is mentally very strong,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “He knows he should save that one 100 times out of 100, but that’s football for you. I made the decision to play him, and mentally, he was ready for it.”
The way things are going, Dean Henderson could start next season in goal for either of these teams. On loan from Man United at Sheffield United and with a contract running down, the 23-year-old has been linked with Chelsea as they ponder the future of Kepa Arrizabalaga, left out at Wembley in favour of cup goalkeeper Willy Caballero.
Solskjaer mentioned the need “to move on” after this defeat, with a pair of games ahead that will decide his side’s top-four fate in the league. After Leicester lost at Tottenham, United will seal a Champions League place if they avoid defeat at home to West Ham on Wednesday and at Leicester four days later. They also have a potential way in when the Europa League resumes next month.
“It is between us, Chelsea and Leicester for those last two positions,” said Solskjaer. “The more help we get from others, the better. But if we do our job on Wednesday, we will be in a good position before we go into the Leicester game. We have just got to regroup and go again. … We have got loads of things to learn as a team, but we are learning, we are developing.”
Leicester’s defeat was also a fillip to Chelsea and Lampard, who won the tactical battle on Sunday by using a back-three shape to nullify United in attacking areas and end their unbeaten run at 19 matches.
With Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood all on the bench — — Solskjaer’s team selection reflected signs of fatigue in their midweek win at Crystal Palace — United started with a back three, then went to a 4-2-3-1 shape following Bailly’s injury but were a shadow of the team that has played so well since the restart.
Olivier Giroud bullied Harry Maguire, Mason Mount excelled in midfield and Chelsea advanced while resting Christian Pulisic for their own final Premier League push, with games at Liverpool and against Wolves.
The need to regroup quickly, then, is clear for both teams, but amid the to-and-fro for cup glory and top-four finishes, De Gea’s day to forget has renewed a problem to United that might need to be solved — once and for all — during what is set to be a short break before the new campaign begins.
De Gea, Man United defence struggle and Limping As Chelsea Humbled them
Manchester United‘s 19-game unbeaten run came to an end as they were dumped out of the FA Cup by Chelsea with a 3-1 defeat at Wembley on Sunday, where two mistakes from David De Gea and a Harry Maguire own goal ensured Frank Lampard‘s team will face Arsenal in the final on Aug. 1.
De Gea and Victor Lindelof were culpable as Olivier Giroud flicked Chelsea ahead in first-half stoppage time and any hopes United had of mounting a comeback were dashed soon after the break when De Gea’s horrific error let Mason Mount‘s tame shot squirm under his body.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer responded by throwing on Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood, but a Maguire own goal — under pressure from Antonio Rudiger — made it 3-0. Bruno Fernandes‘ penalty, five minutes from time after a foul on Anthony Martial, was mere consolation.
United’s best result on Sunday came elsewhere in London as Tottenham beat Leicester. If Solskjaer’s side beat West Ham on Wednesday they can afford to draw with Leicester on the Premier League season’s final day and be guaranteed Champions League football. That Martial, Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood started on the bench at Wembley suggested the United manager had one eye on the league.
Eric Bailly‘s bad luck-filled season continued when, having started as one of three centre-backs, he was stretchered off just before half-time after clashing heads twice in the space of five minutes. After lengthy treatment on the pitch, the Ivorian defender was carried off wearing a neck brace and TV commentators reported he was taken to a local hospital.
Manager rating out of 10
5 — Solskjaer has had success with 4-3-3 since the restart, but went with the back three alignment that worked in a February win at Chelsea. United did not start well, however, and when Bailly had to be replaced, Martial’s introduction saw a formation change. Solskjaer also saw his decision to start De Gea instead of Sergio Romero backfire.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK David De Gea, 3 — Picked ahead of Romero for the first time in this season’s FA Cup, the Spanish international should have done better with Giroud’s goal and made a shocking mistake as Chelsea went 2-0 up.
DF Aaron Wan-Bissaka, 5 — Got underneath a cross at the back post that allowed Marcos Alonso a header at goal when the game was goalless, while two Chelsea goals came from moves that developed down his side.
DF Eric Bailly, 6 — Came into the team for just his second start since English football restarted. Took two bangs on the head in quick succession and had to go off before half time.
DF Harry Maguire, 6 — Had to be bandaged up after a clash of heads with Bailly, missed a good chance to score when Chelsea goalkeeper Willy Caballero flapped at a corner and scored an own goal.
DF Victor Lindelof, 4 — Lost Giroud in the penalty area and was on the wrong side when the French striker gave Chelsea the lead.
MF Nemanja Matic, 6 — Did well to get something on Giroud’s effort when it looked like the Chelsea man might score a second. Matic headed a good late chance over the bar.
MF Fred, 5 — Sloppy on the ball, particularly in the first half, and looked off the pace before he was replaced with Pogba before an hour had been played.
MF Bruno Fernandes, 6 — Took a number of heavy challenges as Chelsea tried to nullify his threat. Confidently dispatched his penalty, having earlier tested Caballero with a free-kick from 20 yards that was pushed over.
FW Marcus Rashford, 6 — Looked lively at times in the first half, but United did not create a meaningful chance to give him a sight of goal.
FW Anthony Martial, 6 — On for Bailly just before half-time and was immediately involved in an incident with Antonio Rudiger. Won the late penalty.
MF Paul Pogba, 6 — Tried his best to make something happen, but could not get United going.
FW Mason Greenwood, 6 — Struggled to make an impact on the right.
FW Odion Ighalo, NR — Replaced Rashford and showed some decent movement as the game ebbed away.
DF Timothy Fosu-Mensah, NR — Came on to save Wan-Bissaka’s legs for the closing stages.