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Would Bart Verbruggen Be Good Enough To Displace De Gea?

The uncertainty around David De Gea's future has caused many fans to deliberate on goalkeepers Manchester United could possibly sign. Several fans are intent on Portuguese goalkeeper Diogo Costa who has a release clause of £65 Million, but with the uncertainty around the ownership situation it's unclear on what the budget could possibly be for the upcoming summer transfer window. Since Manchester United want to sign a striker, possibly two midfielders and maybe more they may not be able to afford the hefty release clause, so the club could be forced to budget or choose who they sign. Additionally, there's every possibility David De Gea extends. The United goalkeeper's contract expires on 30th June 2023. Erik ten Hag has said "De Gea will stay but I will not say he’ll always be my number one”, I say this because in a club like Man United there must be competition always, in all positions”. This could likely mean, if he extends, the club could look for someone to challenge him. Bart Verbruggen could fulfil this role.

Bart Verbruggen is a 20 year old Dutch goalkeeper who plays for the Belgian club Anderlecht. Man United are reportedly interested in the player and he is contracted until mid 2025 and could be signed for possibly around £10 million. He already showed some of his quality when he saved all three penalties in a shootout against Ludogorets Razgrad in a Europa Conference knockout play off. The first goalkeeper to do so in a European competition for 30 years. He's also demonstrated his abilities to stop crosses, save penalties, sweep effectively, pass efficiently and be a quality shot stopper. His head coach, Brian Riemer was full of praise for him,

"For me he is the best goalkeeper in the Jupiler Pro League, I would not change him for anyone. He is one of the most important players in the team, and it is important to remember that he is only 20 and has so much more potential.”

Since his debut in May 2021, Verbruggen has already displayed his quality abilities in shot stopping. Despite being 193cm (6 '4) tall, he has a magnificent ability to get down incredibly quickly to reach low driven shots. The height advantage gives him fantastic reach and he is surprisingly agile on his feet. He has quick reactions, can defend the near post well and is very good at stopping shots from long distance. When the ball gets pushed wide he is excellent at spreading himself to prevent attackers getting the rebound.

Some might use clean sheets as an indication as to who the best is at goal prevention, but a clean sheet is usually down to a team effort rather than the goalkeeper himself. A more accurate way to determine how good a goalkeeper is at shot stopping is to use post shot expected goal against (PSxG-GA). This effectively determines how likely a goal is based on the historical data of previous shots of that kind. For example using this method, in Man United's 3-1 over West Ham at Old Trafford, David De Gea faced 1.69 expected goals on target. From this data we can find that De Gea prevented more than what was expected. Using this particular analytical way of determining the quality of shot stopping, we can now more accurately understand how De Gea and Verbruggen compare across several 90 minute matches. For a more in depth comparison, we will use stats from the last 365 days.

On average, across several matches this season, Verbruggen prevented 0.55 goals per 90 with a save percentage of 85.2%. In comparison, David De Gea prevented 0.02 goals per 90 with a save percentage of 71.7%. Some might argue that David De Gea is facing more difficult shots and this is the reason why his stats are lower. But this does not take into consideration that De Gea is a more experienced goalkeeper and that he has a much more superior defense and midfield in front of him than what Verbruggen has. Thus De Gea should have an advantage since he has experience and better protection on his side.

A good goalkeeper must be able to do more than be a quality shot stopper. A goalkeeper can significantly assist their team by commanding the penalty area and claiming crosses or balls in the air. This is important as it keeps possession for the team and does not lead to any unnecessary corners or opposition chances. It also puts less pressure on the defenders and allows them to play with more confidence as they know they have someone who will assist them in clearing aerial dangers. This season Bart Verbruggen has stopped 10.8% of crosses he has faced per 90 minutes. To compare with De Gea he has only stopped 3.1% of crosses he faced per 90 minutes. Verbruggen’s fantastic domination of his area will offer United a clear advantage when defending set pieces and will take pressure off his team mates in these situations. Verbruggen also excels in rushing off his line when needed. This allows the team to play a much higher line and box opposition teams in their own half, defenders can play with more confidence doing this because they know their goalkeeper will come off his line to help with runs in behind. David De Gea averages around 0.96 defensive actions outside his area per 90 while Verbruggen averages around 1.62 per 90. Verbruggen would be much more suited to this particular style the Erik ten Hag likely wants to implement.

An area in which Erik ten Hag will want to perfect his team is in playing out from the back. He has already significantly improved the team at playing out the back with the signing of Lisandro Martinez. Martinez offers much calmness, the ability to be extremely press resistant and to pass or evade any trouble that might lead to him losing the ball. If United want to be able to improve their abilities in playing this way, then a goalkeeper who can suit this style is extremely key. With the already key abilities of shot stopping and cross stopping, top goalkeepers are able to pass the ball very efficiently. One of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, Alisson Becker for Liverpool, has been able to register assists because of his expert qualities in long goal kicks in addition to his calmness in playing out from the back. When playing this way, the goalkeeper can almost act as another outfield player in possession, which allows more passing options for the entire team. When Bart Verbruggen plays out from the back, he has the ability to clip a pass to the full back with ease, and he is very confident to get on the ball. He averages around 37.17 passes per 90 and can play both short and long passes successfully to evade pressure and keep possession for his team. On the other hand David De Gea manages around 26.84 passes per 90. Since Verbruggen finds lots of confidence in playing this way, he has the abilities to challenge De Gea to improve a weaker aspect of his game, or take his spot.

Bart Verbruggen could very easily displace David De Gea as Manchester United's number one goalkeeper. Verbruggen excels in all the necessary aspects the modern goalkeeper requires and at just 20 years old he has so much potential, and with such a small fee compared to other goalkeepers, he is one Erik ten Hag should definitely consider weather or not he extends De Gea’s contract that is soon to expire, as Verbruggen is more than capable to be a number one goalkeeper for Manchester United.

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