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Man United stuck with declining De Gea

The FA Cup semifinals produced two great games (and one unlikely finalist), while La Liga ended its season with a new mark for Lionel Messi and a league title for Real Madrid. It's Monday, so Gab Marcotti reacts to the weekend's biggest moments.

Man United's De Gea problem

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's lineup when Manchester United faced Chelsea told you all you need to know about his priorities. When you take the field without Paul PogbaAnthony Martial and Mason Greenwood -- all of whom have been key performers in recent games -- it's pretty evident that you're getting them rest so they can be ready for the final two games of the season and the ascent to the Champions League.

And that's fine. I have no problem with it. Silverware is important, of course, and United won three major trophies a few years ago (FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League) and it did their managers no favors. The benchmark is league progression, and given how they'd been playing, it's only right that Solskjaer prioritizes that.

Olley: Man United face a goalkeeping conundrum

In the end, Solskjaer's selections were overshadowed by David de Gea's performance between the sticks. Chelsea outplayed United and might have won anyway, but the Spaniard played a part in each of the Blues' three goals. Some pinpoint the start of the slide at the 2018 World Cup, others before that, but either way it's not hard to see that he's been on a descending arc for some time.

The tough question is what to do. He's obviously not what he was and he's clearly not living up to his salary, which makes him the highest-paid keeper in the world. The call to make is whether to let him play his way out of the funk or whether to drop him, give Sergio Romero or (from next season) Dean Henderson space and see if that jolts him to life. It's not an easy decision and, like many involving goalkeepers, probably isn't even one for Solskjaer as much as it is his coaching staff. You have to know the individual and know how he's going to respond, as well as being able to judge each of his errors technically.

While they assess De Gea, they might also wish to assess how they got into this position, because this was a case of United painting themselves into a corner some 12 months ago when they gave him a new mega deal that runs through 2023, with the option of another season. United gave him this extension in September 2019, following arguably his worst campaign at the club. The logic was that it was difficult to sell De Gea, because only top European clubs could afford his wages and most were happy with their goalkeeping situation. And given that a top keeper like, say, Jan Oblak, was going to cost north of €70 million ($75m) anyway, it was better to simply extend De Gea rather than having leave on a free transfer this summer.

I don't fault the logic, but what's questionable is the terms. De Gea got himself a huge raise, owing to the fact that he was less than a year away from free agency. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but I suspect it would have made a lot more sense to hard-ball him and stick to a more manageable wage, effectively daring him to find himself another club without taking a pay cut. It's true that you would have run the risk of losing him on a free transfer, but given he wasn't performing like the wages on his old contract -- let alone the new -- you would have had a nice fat salary with which to lure another keeper. The best-case scenario is that you would have locked him up long term at a more reasonable price, thereby making him easier to shift.

If De Gea's problems run deeper than just simple errors, a lucrative long-term contract rarely motivates a player going through tough times to suddenly live up to his paycheck. If they're technical, it's not going to make a jot of difference.


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