It’s happened again.
As if this month wasn’t unkind enough to David De Gea, April showers rained down on the Spaniard’s parade for (hopefully) one last time.
With Chelsea down 1-0 to Manchester United in their April 28 matchup, centre-back Antonio Rüdiger struck a 30-yard effort in the 43rd minute of the game. Despite the velocity and power of the attempt, the shot wasn’t expected to trouble De Gea. Unfortunately for United fans, expectations aren’t always realized in reality.
For the Spanish goalkeeper, it’s yet another disaster in a season full of them. It’s the third time from his last four appearances that De Gea has conceded an error that led to a goal. It’s also the 13th straight game he has failed to keep a clean sheet in; a streak that stretches back to late February. De Gea conceded 14 goals in April alone—an average of 2.0 goals per game—and his WhoScored rating for the month averages out to about 5.88. This is one of the lowest among starting goalkeepers in the top five European leagues.
As a result of his cold form, De Gea has become the subject of many hot takes, with everyone and their grandma theorizing over what’s led to DDG’s spike in errors. Is it down to his frustrating contract talks? Perhaps it’s because of a dip in confidence? Maybe it’s a sign that he’s well and truly finished?
Those questions might be best left until the end of the season. For now, I’d like to focus on the reasoning behind this particular goal. More specifically, what was it that resulted in De Gea failing to collect Rüdiger’s attempt?
To answer this question, it’s important to take a look at De Gea’s hands. After all, these are the body parts one uses to catch a ball (or anything, for that matter). In this case, we’re specifically looking at De Gea’s hand structure and finger placement.
Taking into account DDG’s hand placement in the screenshot above, the main thing we can deduce is that De Gea attempted to catch the ball using the W technique. This is the proper (and most popular) catching technique among goalkeepers.
Named so because the ‘keeper’s hands make a W when catching the ball, a successful W technique has the goalkeeper’s two thumbs firmly meeting in the middle of the ball, while the other fingers wrap around it (see below picture). As part of the technique, goalkeepers are also encouraged to keep their hands wrapped around the top half of the ball. Doing so means the ‘keeper has a fail-safe in case they don’t catch the ball properly; it’ll just drop in front of the goalkeeper, allowing them to recover and control it.
Why is this technique so popular, you ask? Its popularity lies in its successfulness. The W technique absorbs the power and nullifies the threat of an attempt. The goalkeeper’s thumbs cushion the ball while blocking it from pushing forward, and their palms and other fingers prevent the ball from slipping out of the goalkeeper’s grip. When executed properly, the W technique is very effective.
Going back to De Gea, this is where we see the main problem. Although DDG is using the right technique, his hand structure and placement are off. Instead of meeting Rüdiger’s shot with two firm thumbs in the middle and his fingers and palms ready to wrap around it, De Gea meets this attempt with a solid right hand. His right palm is too central to the ball, while his left hand is too far to the side.
As a result, Rüdiger’s attempt squarely strikes De Gea’s right hand, and the goalkeeper is unable to get much control in terms of catching the ball. DDG’s hand structure—straight, palm central to the ball—doesn’t absorb the shot’s power like a curved hand would. Instead, it acts like a wall, pushing the ball off of itself and back into play. This was De Gea’s fatal flaw.
Regarding why De Gea’s hands might’ve been positioned the way they were, it’s likely down to either DDG not reading the shot’s trajectory well or him not factoring in how his dive impacted the placement of his hands. A slight body movement to the left or the right will alter the positioning of one’s hands, and it’s possible De Gea forgot to properly adjust his technique as he attempted to meet the shot.
De Gea’s blunder vs. Chelsea will go down as the latest in a long list of April 2019 errors the Spaniard has committed, and it’s unlikely he’ll look back on it with much fondness. Nonetheless, it should serve as a reminder of the importance of proper catching technique and how a slight miscalculation can be the difference between a caught and fumbled ball.