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De Gea’s successor?

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Too many holes to fill, too little money to do it. Manchester United’s upcoming summer transfer window could be an exercise in being astute. While the striker position will ultimately take precedence, and by design, most of the transfer budget, they need to plan a succession plan for David de Gea. Bart Verbruggen of Anderlecht is one such astute buy that could fill United’s problem position without a huge outlay. United have been linked to the Dutch prodigy as a budget option who can be a long-term investment as well.

So, how good is Bart Verbruggen? Can the 20-year-old replicate the same level of service that David de Gea has provided Man Utd with since coming to England at a similar age? Here’s the comprehensive Bart Verbruggen analysis to tell you all you need to know about the keeper who might take over from David de Gea-

All stats and figures courtesy of FBRef

Bart Verbruggen analysis

To do a Bart Verbruggen analysis, it is important to put him in comparison to David de Gea. While that is difficult to do so without context, as the strength of the leagues they play in is very different, a general playing style analysis can be done.

In a single sentence, it can be summed up as-

Bart Verbruggen is good at everything David de Gea cannot do and has the potential to be elite at it.

Now to a deeper dive.

David de Gea’s glaring weaknesses are two-fold- inability to play the ball with his feet in buildup scenarios, and lacking command of his area in terms of catching crosses and sweeping outside his area with authority.

According to FBRef, David de Gea stops just 3.3% of the crosses per 90 minutes. This puts him at a lowly 9 percentile of all GKs in Europe’s top-five leagues.

In contrast, Bart Verbruggen stops 10.8% of crosses, good for being in the 93 percentile among the next eight competitions. Obviously, the strength of the league has to be factored in here. However, the basic point made is the difference in the style of play. For comparison, Dean Henderson was stopping 6.9% of crosses before going down with an injury, good for 73 percentile.

Furthermore, David de Gea rarely, if ever leaves his line to sweep outside the area.

With a remarkably low figure of just 0.85 defensive actions/90 outside of his penalty area, David de Gea is far below the elites like Alisson (2.09/90). This reticence has led to United being vulnerable on the break and Erik ten Hag has directly been forced to abandon high lines and proactive pressing due to the same issue.

Bart Verbruggen addresses this issue directly. Sweeping is one of his biggest strengths. Verbruggen regularly ventures out of his area to cover long balls over his defender’s head. Standing at nearly 6’4″, Verbruggen is also a menace in the penalty box when dealing with opposition set pieces. His inclusion would allow the defenders to move 5-10 yards further up the field, directly affecting United’s pressing schemes from the front.

With 42 touches/90 Verbruggen is also routinely involved in Anderlecht’s buildup phase. David de Gea, in contrast, touches the ball just 28 times/90, with many of those touches being long balls that lead to nowhere and invite pressure.

However, the most important thing for a GK still is to keep the ball out of the net. Remarkably, what used to be touted as a strength for De Gea has turned into a weakness this season.

The Spaniard has conceded 41 goals from a post-shot xG figure of 38, i.e., conceding three more goals than the average keeper would have considering the quality of shots he faced. Verbruggen has five from a post-shot xG of 8.3 in the Conference League this season. Furthermore, with age on his side, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

At his peak, Bart Verbruggen will be a more complete version of David de Gea.

Bart Verbruggen Manchester United transfer news

The Red Devils have been linked with a litany of GKs this season. From the wonderkid option of Diogo Costa to the budget option of David Raya, or the in-house solution in Dean Henderson, it is clear that United don’t see a successful future with David de Gea.

The links to Bart Verbruggen, however, make a lot of sense. Although the prospect of going from Anderlecht in the Belgian league to starting for Manchester United is huge, the reality of the matter is that David de Gea will most likely extend his contract.

In Bart Verbruggen, United will then have a situation where Verbruggen can develop without pressure while David de Gea starts the next season still as No 1. Erik ten Hag will be able to ease the Dutch GK into the league and his new environment. Furthermore, with correct coaching, Verbruggen will ideally be ready to take the undisputed No 1 role by the end of the season, making the transition from De Gea respectful and seamless instead of sudden.

It would also allow United to splash the cash on a world-class striker instead, a position of higher urgency, all the while restocking their GK department for potentially the next 10 years.

It is how United handled the transition from Edwin van der Saar to David de Gea. Some time of pain and errors gave way to a decade of dominance by De Gea. The time to pass the torch is now.

Vatsal Gupta
A die-hard Red Devil, who has straight up not had a good time since 2012. Lives on Korean dramas and books and can often be heard talking about armchair psychological stuff.

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