David de Gea 21 Goalkeeper Manchester United
No pressure, David. Madrid-born goalkeeper De Gea arrived at Old Trafford last year with myriad reasons to feel under pressure as well as excited. His performances for Atletico Madrid took him to Manchester United with a massive reputation and the expectations that come with it. Throw in the millstone of a weighty pricetag and United's Premier League history containing iconic players like Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar, and the young Spaniard could be excused for taking a while to find his feet.
To an extent, that's what happened. But after a start popularly described as "shaky", De Gea soon settled into a United side with serious challenges of its own. That they took rivals City to stoppage time at the end of a gripping title race is to their credit, and De Gea's impact was noteworthy.
Fast forward to the end of 2012 and it seems as if De Gea's part of the Old Trafford furniture, but it hasn't all been plain sailing. After making 29 Premier League appearances last term, at the beginning of this season it became apparent that Alex Ferguson might be approaching things a little differently between the posts. In the early weeks of the campaign, United switched between De Gea and Anders Lindegaard and uncharacteristically conceded five goals in their first three Premier League fixtures.
United's official website addressed the issue of goalkeeper rotation with Ferguson back in September. "The most important thing I'm trying to do is give both of them experience in the English game," he explained. "Alternating isn't a problem for me. They're both equally very good goalkeepers."
He also pointed out in the same press conference that Lindegaard's injury problems in 2011/12 were the only factor preventing more rotation previously. It's a logical and seemingly sensible approach, but one has to think back to the previous custodians at the club. If Ferguson had total, unwavering faith in one of his goalkeepers - like he did in Schmeichel, for example - would he really be rotating? The difference, of course, is De Gea's age. The best goalkeepers mature long after 21 and he's got a good 15 years ahead of him. If Ferguson is happy with his lot, what's the rush?
And so to the fly in De Gea's ointment: international recognition. If Ferguson is carefully managing his development in its early stages, Spain boss Vicente del Bosque is giving him the ultimate laissez-faire approval by showing no immediate interest in bringing him into the international fold, despite a good deal of experience in the national team set-up at other age groups and senior team call-ups finally coming his way in the summer, both before and after UEFA Euro 2012.
It's difficult to argue with a winner of his magnitude, but Del Bosque could arguably be taking a more long-term view with regards to De Gea. Iker Casillas is immovable, Barcelona's Victor Valdes an able understudy with relatively few caps. But Pepe Reina - chief cheerleader or not - is now 30 years of age and a much shorter-term option as third choice than De Gea, who would arguably now benefit more from gaining better familiarity with the senior team.
Regardless, De Gea's eventual ascent to Spain goalkeeper remains the most likely course. He is frequently praised for his distribution and communication, while his shot-stopping and reflexes are generally beyond debate by now. Some supporters have concerns over his command of the penalty area, but this - like the eradication of the errors that marred his first few games for United - is a problem that can be improved with hard work and experience.
"It remains to be seen if Sir Alex Ferguson's attempts to shelter his young goalkeeper by rotating him with Anders Lindegaard will help or harm De Gea, but he is a keeper with rare raw talent. The good news is that most of De Gea's weaknesses are things that can easily be coached – his strengths are natural and not often found in one so young." - Nick Miller (Football365)
C Steady progress and plenty of time to improve even further