David De Gea has no need to audition for Real Madrid. He does that every week, in every game for Manchester United. But Tuesday’s Champions League fixture against Sevilla puts De Gea back on Madrid’s radar, the Spain international facing a team from his homeland. He’s already hard to ignore - a standout performance here could force Madrid’s hand.
After more than 300 games for United, two years as Atletico Madrid’s first choice and 25 international caps, there’s surely not a lot left for anyone to discover about De Gea. Madrid would know exactly what they were getting if they finally brought the 27-year-old to Santiago Bernabeu. Everyone else knows it as well. Astonishing agility, cat-like reflexes, composure with the ball at his feet and the kind of distribution that puts some midfielders to shame, there’s barely a black mark against De Gea’s game. His presence in the Madrid goal would surely cause a significant shift in the Champions League betting odds.
For Madrid, De Gea’s brilliance is both a blessing and a curse. It certainly hasn’t helped Keylor Navas, the Costa Rica international who is still fighting to shake off the tag that he’s only Madrid’s No. 1 because of some questionable office equipment or the absence of a signature on a piece of paper - it depends which version of events from 2015 you believe. But Madrid made clear two-and-a-half years ago that they wanted De Gea more than Navas, having been willing to send the latter to Old Trafford in part-exchange for the former, and no-one really believes the protestations to the contrary that have been uttered since.
A match-defining performance in Manchester will resonate clearly some 1500km away in the Spanish capital but more tantalisingly, it will keep alive the possibility of a Madrid-United quarter-final, a battle of two of Europe’s genuine heavyweights with gripping narratives up and down the pitch. Cristiano Ronaldo against his former club will dominate the discussion if the draw does throw up the first competitive meeting of Los Blancos and the Red Devils since 2013 but De Gea directly against Navas will register too. Each player will have their performance analysed in the minutest of detail, even more than usual.
We’re still at least 90 minutes - and the luck of the draw - from that eventuality and Sevilla shouldn’t be discounted, not when their recent record on the road is better than at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. United, it’s true, haven’t lost at Old Trafford since December and with De Gea in goal, that shouldn’t be a surprise. In the short-term, he’ll remain the almost-unbeatable guardian of the United goal. But having been at the club since 2011, the time might be approaching for De Gea to scratch his seven-year itch.
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