David De Gea wanted to leave for Real Madrid. Manchester United wanted him to stay. And so they wrangled over his future all summer long. And in the end, the Spanish goalkeeper's move to his hometown was only scuppered by an administrative goof – paperwork for his mooted move wasn't filed in time to meet the transfer deadline.
So the lanky shot-stopper remained a Red Devil, and on Thursday, United thanked its lucky stars yet again.
Because in the first leg of their Europa League round of 16 bout with historic rivals Liverpool – yes, both these clubs have been demeaned to seeking their glory in Europe's second-tier tournament – De Gea kept the Reds from overrunning his troubled side at Anfield. That they merely lost 2-0 was a relief of sorts because Liverpool was dominant.
In a third hopeless season in a row, United and its rudderless manager Louis van Gaal are only competitive in the Europa League and the FA Cup. The Premier League is gone. And they were very nearly bounced from this competition with a game to go. Were it not for De Gea and his six saves.
There was nothing he could do about Daniel Sturridge's well-placed penalty after Memphis Depay stepped on Nathaniel Clyne's trailing foot inches inside the penalty area in the 19th minute.
But then De Gea put on a clinic that kept the game close going into halftime. In the 24th minute, he somehow managed to recover after being beaten and smother Philippe Coutinho's meek finish on an empty goal.