Manchester United’s goalkeeping crisis deepened on Monday when David de Gea called in sick and Anders Lindegaard left the training ground on crutches.
De Gea was surprisingly recalled to the United line-up in place of Lindegaard for Saturday’s FA Cup defeat at Liverpool following a four-match absence, but the young Spaniard was widely criticised for another uncertain performance.
It presented manager Sir Alex Ferguson with a difficult choice ahead of tonight’s Premier League clash with Stoke at Old Trafford, but the United manager’s options narrowed dramatically yesterday morning.
First, De Gea phoned to say that he was unwell and would not be coming in to train, then Lindegaard was injured during the session at Carrington and went home on crutches with his right foot in a protective boot.
Provided he has recovered, De Gea is expected to keep his place tonight, but third-choice Ben Amos and Tomasz Kuszczak - who last played in May - are on standby It is the latest twist in United’s goalkeeping saga this season. Ferguson has been forced to defend De Gea, having paid Atletico Madrid £17.8million in the summer to make him Edwin van der Sar’s successor as No 1 at Old Trafford. It also established the 21-year-old as the most expensive goalkeeper in British football history.
But he has struggled to adapt to the English game since, which has contrasted sharply with the displays of 27-year-old Lindegaard, a £3.5m signing from Norwegian club Aalesunds.
Ferguson, who dropped De Gea after a poor performance against Blackburn on New Year’s Eve, acknowledged that the Spaniard remains a ‘long-term project’ in an interview with Inside United magazine.
He said: ‘Anders has been playing recently but we know with David it’s about experiencing English football and adjusting to it. He’s only 21. It’s a long-term project for David, we always knew that.’
Although De Gea gave one of his better performances when United drew 1-1 at Stoke in September, there are fears over how he would cope again under bombardment from a team Ferguson likens to the old Wimbledon.
‘You know what Tony Pulis’s teams are like,’ said Ferguson. ‘They all get stuck in and you have to cope with that.
‘When Wimbledon first came into our division, nobody looked forward to playing against them. Stoke have the same quality of never giving in.’
Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones and Nani are unlikely to be fit to return tonight but Rio Ferdinand, out for two games with a back spasm, is expected to be in the starting line-up against a Stoke team led by former United trainee Ryan Shawcross.
‘I wasn’t near to the first team and the manager thought it was best for me to move on,’ said Shawcross.
‘I don’t wonder about what might have been. We will go to Old Trafford as massive underdogs but hoping to prove a point.’