By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
Erik ten Hag says David De Gea’s distribution has improved this season but the Manchester United manager could not “ignore” his errant kicking against Real Betis.
No shot-stopper has kept more clean sheets in the Red Devils’ history than the 32-year-old and only the great Alex Stepney has lined up between the sticks for the club on more occasions.
De Gea is the last player from the Sir Alex Ferguson era still playing regularly for United and has performed a key role since Ten Hag’s summer arrival, playing in all but four matches this season.
There had been suggestions that the Spain goalkeeper may not fit the Dutchman’s approach given his struggles playing out from the back – something that came into sharp focus on Thursday.
De Gea’s kicking was poor against Betis and he was fortunate that a particularly loose pass out did not see United fall behind, with Ayoze Perez’s deflected effort hitting a post before the hosts ran out 4-1 winners.
“From today I can’t ignore it, but I think we have seen many games he did really well,” Ten Hag said of De Gea, who is speaking to the club about extending his stay beyond the end of the season.
A strong performance in Europe 🔴 pic.twitter.com/7QkPCOicPe
— David de Gea (@D_DeGea) March 9, 2023
“I don’t know what the reason today was. There was a lot of wind, a different ball, probably he had some problems with that, but I know we can deal with it and he will do better Sunday.”
Asked whether he has any general concern about De Gea’s kicking game, Ten Hag said: “We work on that but David is working on that.
“But I think we have seen in this season that he is improving and he will keep improving, I’m sure.”
Individual improvements have been clear during a promising first season under Ten Hag, making Sunday’s 7-0 shellacking at rivals Liverpool all the more shocking.
Skipper Bruno Fernandes came in for intense criticism and responded by scoring a header in a man-of-the-match display in Thursday’s Europa League last-16 first leg against Betis.
“I said (in the pre-match press conference) I am very pleased with his captaincy because he has given the team energy,” Ten Hag said.
“He is not only giving the physical output, the best of the whole team, but also he is running in the right direction and he is pointing players in that direction.
“He is coaching players, he is leading the team in the tactical perspective.
Great performance and win 💪🏼 pic.twitter.com/mQdciXd6q4
— Bruno Fernandes (@B_Fernandes8) March 9, 2023
“His emotion is his weapon but sometimes it’s too strong and, yes, of course I help him, I support him and I give him feedback.
“Sometimes he has to show more control (of his) emotions and that will help.
“He has to find the balance when to use rational as a tool and when to use emotion as a tool. That is the next step.
“It is a nice development point for him and when he does it, he will be an even better player.”
Marcus Rashford, Antony and Fernandes scored before Wout Weghorst wrapped up victory with just his second goal for the club and first at Old Trafford.
The striker has struggled to convert chances since his surprise loan move from Burnley and was another to face intense scrutiny after the Anfield annihilation.
“I think as you see he is often in the right position, then he fails but he keeps going,” Ten Hag said. “So, he showed great personality and character, not only in this game.
“He could have early on his goal but he keeps focused, keeps working, keeps putting himself in the right positions and finally he got his goal and his reward.”
Weghorst has played every game since he arrived due to Anthony Martial’s ongoing injury issues, although the France forward has returned to team training as he steps up his recovery from a nagging hip complaint.
“I think all the time we had a good plan and it worked until now not always good,” Ten Hag said ahead of Sunday’s match against Southampton.
“But he is on his way back, he’s back in training but we will be cautious, yeah.”
There could be another boost coming soon with Ten Hag suggesting Christian Eriksen is ahead of schedule in his recovery from an ankle injury.
“I think he will play (this season), yeah, definitely,” he added.
“But I can’t tell now an expectation, but I think his progress in the rehab is OK, is going according to plan, so we will definitely see him but not before the international break.”