De Gea: Man Utd are 'far away from where we want to be'

By Sports Desk March 18, 2022

David de Gea acknowledged that Manchester United are "far away" from where they want to be but vowed to fight back after their Champions League exit.

United crashed out at the last-16 stage of the Champions League after a 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid at Old Trafford on Tuesday condemned Ralf Rangnick's side to a 2-1 loss on aggregate.

That leaves United out of contention for silverware this season, last lifting a trophy in 2017 when they won the Europa League, with Rangnick's remaining goal being to secure a top-four finish.

The race for a spot in England's top four looks set to go to the wire. Arsenal, who occupy fourth and have played two games fewer than United, could be four points clear of the Red Devils by the time they are next in action at home to Leicester City on April 2.

De Gea called on his side to battle until the end of the season, knowing Champions League qualification is perhaps the only consolation that can salvage another disappointing campaign.

"It's taken me a few days to be able to talk about my intense disappointment from our Champions League exit," the goalkeeper, who was omitted from the Spain squad on Friday, wrote on Twitter.

"We didn't do enough over the two games but this is on us. We must use this as energy to improve ourselves, to learn, to achieve and challenge again. That is all we can do in this tough moment.

"I have said many times that we are far away from where we want to be, but we as players will go again for the remaining Premier League games."

While United - who parted ways with club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in late November - have underperformed this season, matters could have been made significantly worse without De Gea.

Only relegation battlers Leeds United (179), Norwich City (170) and Brentford (146) have faced more shots on target in the Premier League than United (143).

That has forced De Gea to make 105 saves, with Leeds' Illan Meslier (111) the only goalkeeper in the league to make more stops.

The excellence of De Gea stands out when compared to other goalkeepers in terms of the differential between expected goals on target conceded and the number of times they have been beaten.

Expected goals (xG) on target conceded, a way of measuring not just the quality of a chance but the quality of the attempt itself, when subtracted from goals against displays a goalkeeper's shot-stopping prowess.

De Gea has prevented 3.83 by that way of comparison, ranking only behind Wolves' Jose Sa (8.62) in the Premier League.

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    Dalic's side must overcome Italy on Monday to have any chance of escaping Group B, sitting on just one point after a 2-2 draw with Albania followed a 3-0 humbling by Spain in their opener.

    Croatia have not gone through a group stage without winning at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup (D2 L1) as those defensive problems referenced by Dalic remain the main issue.

    They have conceded five goals in two matches so far, only letting more in at two major tournament group stages, shipping six at Euro 2004 and as many at the World Cup 10 years later.

    "We haven't started well," Dalic told reporters on Sunday. "We haven't been up to our usual standards because we've been conceding too many goals.

    "We only conceded once in the group stage in Qatar 2022, we've conceded five thus far here.

    "The players are three years older. We are also coming up against strong opposition here as well. Perhaps the main issue is that we started to concede goals this season."

    Indeed, Croatia have an ageing midfield with Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic, as well as calling upon veteran Ivan Perisic.

    Yet that experience can still prove pivotal. Modric played 64 passes in the final third against Albania, the second-most by a player on record in a European Championship match (1980 onwards), behind Mesut Ozil for Germany versus Greece at Euro 2012 (74).

    Modric also made his 34th appearance across the Euros and World Cup combined in that Albania draw, a total only six outfield European players can better.

    That in-game knowledge and quality could prove decisive when they meet Italy, in what Dalic acknowledge is a winner-takes-all clash.

    "We know it's essentially a knockout match tomorrow, and there won't be any extra time and we must simply win the game," Dalic said.

    "It's a must-win, any other result will send us home. We don't want to go home so soon.

    "We'll try to stop them from getting that draw. We'll try and stay relaxed to not lose our cool or lose our heads and not allow the opposition to get on top of us.

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    Dalic has previously apologised to the travelling Croatia supporters for their performance against Spain, though his side are creating ample chances to win games.

    Croatia have already had more shots (38) and more shots on target (15) at this tournament than they had in their Euro 2020 group stage (30 shots, 10 on target).

    They have only had more efforts on target at the group stages of two Euros – 19 in 2004 and 16 in 1996 – with Dalic just needing fortune to fall in Croatia's favour in Leipzig.

    He continued: "Yes, there is pressure. And that comes down to the results we've had thus far and also to the thousands of fans that have been travelling and will be there in Leipzig as well.

    "So there is pressure for us to put a smile on their faces, to try to get a good result for our country. We need to show our true level. So right from the word go, we need to try to put things right."

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    Indeed, the triumphant Spain side from yesteryear included the likes of David Villa, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, as well as Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol further back.

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    Spain and France are the only sides to have not conceded yet at this tournament, despite the likes of England and Germany also being touted as pre-Euros favourites.

    De la Fuente expects the favourites to soon click into gear, though.

    "I don't think we've seen the real quality of certain teams yet," he continued. "Some of them have reached a strong competitive level straight away while others that some may call favourites or contenders, they haven't yet got going fully.

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    Spain secured top spot in Group B after their 1-0 victory over Italy on Thursday, with Riccardo Calafiori's own goal handing La Roja the win in the 55th minute.

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    Spalletti had named the same starting line-up from their comeback win over Albania but used all five of his changes by the 64th minute.

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    "Of course, after a game like that, there is the notion and the idea to change the team a little bit," Spalletti said.

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    Italy know that a win will confirm second place in the group, while a defeat will either knock them out immediately if Albania beat Spain or leave them waiting to see if they can go through as one of the best third-place teams.

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