There will be one man certain that an injury to David de Gea would not weaken Manchester United – the goalkeeper poised to replace him, Sergio Romero.
After all the self-assured Argentine has played 96 times for his country including the 2014 World Cup final and lost just six of the 46 games he has played for United.
There is statistical evidence United’s results are actually better with the 32-year-old in goal instead of De Gea and his 28 clean sheets for the club include the 2017 Europa League final win against Ajax.
David de Gea could be out of Liverpool clash after picking up an injury playing for Spain
Sergio Romero, who’s made just one Premier League appearance in two years, is poised to play
‘No dilemma,’ said Mourinho when asked to explain why he’d kept faith with Romero for United’s biggest match of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Romero has kept six clean sheets in his seven Premier League games for United and never conceded a league goal at Old Trafford (three games).
Having said that, he is undercooked at the highest level; the 1-0 win against Watford in May 2018 is his only Premier League appearance in the last two years.
Of course United, having given de Gea a bumper new contract earlier this season, will want the Spaniard to recover quickly from the muscle injury that forced him out of Spain’s Euro 2020 qualifier with Sweden on Tuesday.
Romero has kept 28 clean sheets for United and is yet to concede a league goal at Old Trafford
But if he is ruled out of Sunday’s blockbuster against Liverpool and beyond, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can count on probably the most prestigious understudy goalkeeper in the Premier League.
Romero did worry that playing second fiddle to De Gea would affect his international prospects – and indeed he has hardly had a look-in for Argentina since missing the 2018 World Cup through injury and not won a cap in the last 12 months – but he’s never let those frustrations show within the United camp.
Indeed, Mourinho praised his attitude as a No 2 and Romero’s relationship with de Gea.
‘I never saw in all my career two goalkeepers to be so friendly, because it is a position where you always have a little bit of rivalry, especially if you are both the same kind of level. They are two fantastic goalkeepers.
Jose Mourinho had no qualms about starting Romero in the Europa League final back in 2017
‘They are friends and they support each other all the time. I never saw a bad face, I always saw them supporting each other.’
SERGIO ROMERO’S CV
2006-07 Racing Club
Clean Sheets: 0
2007-11 AZ Alkmaar
Clean Sheets: 48
Clean Sheets: 25
– 2013-14 Monaco (loan)
Clean Sheets: 5
2015-present Manchester United
Clean Sheets: 28
Clean Sheets: 47
He also fits the stereotype of a passionate Argentine. In his early days at AZ Alkmaar, where he won the Dutch league, he broke his hand punching a dressing-room door in anger.
‘Not smart,’ said his manager Louis van Gaal understatedly.
When Celta Vigo fluffed a late chance to knock United out of the Europa League a couple of years ago, Romero said poetically: ‘My soul returned to my body.’
His reputation as a big-time player was enhanced at his second World Cup finals in Brazil when he led Argentina to a semi-final shoot-out win against Holland and did well in the final against Germany, which his side lost 1-0 in extra-time.
Romero joined United in 2015 from Sampdoria and in many ways he’s had the most unenviable job in football since then, the stand-in goalie as de Gea’s form excelled, at least until the 2018 World Cup.
It’s noticeable that under Solskjaer his appearances have been fewer and further apart than for either Louis van Gaal or Mourinho, playing just twice this season including the League Cup tie against Rochdale when he became the hero of a penalty shoot-out.
This could be his chance to show he’s still the Romero that has played behind Messi, Aguero and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for club and country.
The first thing you notice about Romero between the sticks is that he looks commanding, a more imposing physical presence than the lean and agile de Gea.
He has tons of experience and has played 96 times for Argentina, including a World Cup final
He seems to instil confidence in his back-line – important for United who currently sit in the bottom half of the Premier League – and of course he makes great saves, both reflex stops and bravery in one-against-ones.
Had de Gea left last summer, some inside Old Trafford felt Romero capable of stepping up to be No 1. Counting against him in the long-term however are issues of fitness and dependability.
He missed the last World Cup with a knee injury – the Argentine FA reported a ‘joints blockage in his right knee’ and when there were issues over de Gea’s form at the end of last season, Solskjaer couldn’t pick Romero because he’d tweaked his knee again in training.
Long-term, injury issues may prevent Romero from becoming a full-time No 1 for a club the size of United. But short-term, if de Gea has to miss a few weeks, it’s hard to think of anyone better to fill the void.
Ole Gunar Solskjaer hasn’t played him much, so this is his chance to prove he’s still top class