PFA chief claims football is ‘sleep-walking into a crisis’ amid burnout fearsMay 26 | 2 min read
Exclusive David De Gea interview: 'Solskjaer has told me I'm his number one' - Manchester United goalkeeper on mistakes, his Red Devils future and 'unfair' VAR penalty controversy
Ahead of their must-win match against Brighton live on BT Sport, under-fire Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea vowed to learn from his recent mistakes
A 3-1 home defeat on opening weekend was all it took to derail a club that looked to have finally turned a corner.
United ended the last campaign at a canter, putting together a 14-match unbeaten run that culminated in a top-four finish for just the second time in five seasons.
But while the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial were earning rave reviews for their performances, the form of David De Gea was becoming a cause for concern.
A series of high-profile errors led to vociferous criticism from ex-United captain Roy Keane, who said he was 'sick to death' of the Spaniard's inconsistency between the sticks.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer resisted calls to drop him - but the debate around De Gea's apparent decline refuses to go away.
In the aftermath of last weekend's shock defeat to Crystal Palace, the three-time Manchester United Player of the Year's position is once again under the microscope.
Ahead of a potentially season-defining game for club and player, BT Sport sat down with the under-fire stopper with United in desperate need of a morale-boosting victory.
In a revealing interview, the Spain number one vowed to learn from his mistakes and revealed how 'difficult' it is to stay at the top of your game as an elite-level goalkeeper.
"Only those playing in this position know how hard it is and how hard it is to be at your best year after year in a big team," he told BT Sport's Matt Smith.
"A huge part of it is your mind-set. You need to have a strong mentality. You need to accept you are human and that you will make mistakes
"Any player can make mistakes. Some players miss an open goal - that’s football. You can be playing well and still make mistakes.
"But the important thing is to learn from those mistakes and to get stronger thanks to those mistakes."
With De Gea approaching his 30s, he faces fresh competition for the No1 role from Dean Henderson.
The 23-year-old was rewarded for an impressive two-year loan spell at Sheffield United with a new five-year contract at Old Trafford and is widely expected to succeed De Gea in the coming years.
The prospect of losing his first-team place is nothing new, according to De Gea.
"A huge club like Manchester United requires competition in all positions," said De Gea.
"That’s what the club wants, to have various options in each position in order to have a better team and a more competitive club.
"I have always had very good competition with very good goalkeepers of the highest level. Ultimately we are always looking to help each other out."
Having recently made his 400th appearance for the club, De Gea believes he has earned the right to wear the number one shirt.
Asked whether he remains Solskjaer's first choice, De Gea was unequivocal. "Me? Yes," he replied.
"I have been here many years now. I have a lot of experience and I think I have been at a very good level for a long time now.
"I have the confidence of the gaffer, the club and my teammates.
"I am happy to be here and I am looking forward to more years here.
"Hopefully good things will happen to this club like trophies and I hope I can remain the number one here for a long time."
In the short term. United know only victory will do on Saturday lunchtime as they look to bounce back from only their third loss at home on opening weekend in Premier League history.
United and City were both given an extra week to prepare for the start of the new Premier League season after competing in the knockout stages of Europe during August.
But the extended break proved futile as United were out-run, out-fought and out-scored by a Crystal Palace team that many had tipped for relegation this season.
"We did not have enough time to recover well" said De Gea.
"We did not had time to prepare the first game properly. Some players could not train due to the quarantine, the virus and so it has been difficult. But it has also been difficult for the rest of the teams. We cannot use it as an excuse."
De Gea was at the centre of the game's major controversy.
After Martin Atkinson adjudged Victor Lindelof to have handled the ball in the area, De Gea saved Jordan Ayew's resultant spot-kick to keep United's deficit at one goal.
But seconds later Atkinson ordered a retake after VAR adjudged that the Spain international had moved off his line.
Ex-United winger Wilfried Zaha replaced Ayew on penalty duties for the second attempt and made no mistake, drilling the ball past De Gea to double the visitors' lead.
De Gea described the new restrictions on goalkeepers as "unfair", as Palace went on to run out 3-1 winners.
"I only leaned forward a tiny bit so, for me, it was a good save," said De Gea.
"I understand why this new rule for the penalties has been implemented.
"But it was already so difficult to save a penalty even with the option to lean forward... now we are even more limited.
"If the person who has taken the penalty misses I don’t understand why they should be able to swap the penalty taker.
"You are taking the pressure away from the player who took and missed the first time.
"If you offer the chance to someone else to take the penalty then he will not have the same pressure as the one who took the first one.
" I think it is a little unfair."
United and De Gea have a chance to right a few wrongs this Saturday when they square-off against Brighton at the Amex Stadium.
"Now that we are all 100 per cent, we need to start winning games," said De Gea.
With his United career hanging in the balance, can the club's longest serving player produce one last stand?
Watch De Gea and Manchester United take on Brighton at the Amex from 11.30am on Saturday 26 September on BT Sport 1 HD, BT Sport Ultimate and online.