Romelu Lukaku has unwavering faith in "mentally strong" Man United keeper David De Gea

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Dave still saves: De Gea has the backing of Lukaku and his fellow United team-mates.

Romelu Lukaku has unwavering faith in David De Gea despite another costly mistake from the Spanish goalkeeper that left Manchester United‘s hopes of a Premier League top-four finish on a knife-edge.

De Gea has been at fault for a number of goals United have conceded in recent weeks, the latest coming in Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Chelsea at Old Trafford.

Antonio Rudiger’s long-distance effort should have given De Gea few alarms but the goalkeeper could only parry the ball into the path of Marcos Alonso, who stole in to cancel out Juan Mata’s opener on his 31st birthday.

The result means fourth-placed Chelsea are three points ahead of United with two fixtures of the season remaining, but Lukaku refused to apportion blame for their predicament on the highly-rated De Gea.

Echoing United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s defence of De Gea, Lukaku said: “I think he’s a really positive person. He analyses really quickly what happens to him.

“He’s been the best player at the club for seven, eight years consistently. I don’t think we should discredit him and say all of a sudden he’s a bad goalkeeper. He’s saved us so many times this season.

De Gea hangs his head as Chelsea celebrate Alonso's goal.

De Gea hangs his head as Chelsea celebrate Alonso’s goal.

“Goalkeepers always have a spell where sometimes it might go difficult. The only thing you have to do is work hard.

“I don’t know how goalkeepers get through it, I’m not a goalkeeper, but he works hard every single day.

“We are here to support him as players but mentally he’s really, really strong, or else he wouldn’t be the best player for seven, eight years.

“There’s no doubt about his ability. And he’s a leader in the dressing room. Now it’s up to us as a team to help and trust in his abilities.”

United’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League are now out of their hands but Lukaku, who has failed to find the net in his last six starts but put in a strong showing against the Blues, remains optimistic.

The Belgian striker said: “Until it’s done you keep believing. It’s something that’s in the DNA of the club.

“We have two games where we should give our all, play good football and hope for the best.”

The teams, as well as fifth-placed Arsenal, have suffered some indifferent recent form as the season reaches its conclusion.

Sympathy for the Devil: Romelu Lukaku has backed De Gea to bounce back.

Sympathy for the Devil: Romelu Lukaku has backed De Gea to bounce back.

That is not lost on Chelsea defender David Luiz, who is determined to secure Champions League qualification for the Blues after they were relegated to the Europa League this season.

Luiz said: “Everybody saw that the last two or three games for everybody were tough. Nobody wants to be in the top four because everybody was losing points because the other teams also need the points.

“It’s important for our club because we are a big club and big clubs want to play in the Champions League. It’s great to be there and play against the best players in the world, the best teams. I miss it.

“But you also have to have the humility to understand when we didn’t do the job one year before, you have to pay the consequences.”

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Solskjaer backs De Gea after Man United’s Champions League hopes hit

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer unequivocally backed David De Gea and insisted the faltering goalkeeper is not to blame for Manchester United being in danger of missing out on Champions League qualification.

The Spaniard was culpable for Chelsea’s leveller in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, parrying a long-range Antonio Rudiger shot which let Marcos Alonso steal in and score, cancelling out Juan Mata’s opener on his 31st birthday.

De Gea made a fine save from Gonzalo Higuain in the dying seconds but the major talking point was his latest error, hot on the heels of high-profile mistakes against Manchester City in midweek and Barcelona earlier this month.

United’s hopes of a top-four Premier League finish are out of their hands following the result though Solskjaer, who publicly backed De Gea before this weekend, was loathe to place too much blame on his number one.

David de Gea.

David de Gea.

Solskjaer said: “He’s been in the spotlight for the right reasons for so long, now he’s going through a period where he probably feels he could have done better.

“I don’t have any worries about him because he’s a strong character.

“Of course I’ll sit down and speak to David as I’ve done when he’s played well. But he’s not the reason why we’re in the sixth position at the moment.

“You cannot say there is any complacency, David is not the type to sit down and be complacent. He is a competitor and he wants to be the best.

“David knows he could have done better with the goal, there’s no reason to hide that, but there’s no chance any of us will point fingers because he’s saved us so many times.”

England striker Marcus Rashford was withdrawn midway through the second half because of a shoulder injury, while Solskjaer confirmed Eric Bailly’s season was over after he awkwardly twisted his knee shortly afterwards.

The Ivorian was seen leaving Old Trafford on crutches with his right knee in a heavy brace.

Solskjaer added: “Eric, it’s a bad knee injury, hopefully it’s not the worst case. But I’m sure we won’t see him any more this season unfortunately.

“Rashy, we strapped him before the game, you could see clearly that his shoulder got worse and worse and he couldn’t run freely any more.”

United lie three points behind the fourth-placed Blues with two games remaining – although both teams and Arsenal, in fifth, have endured indifferent form of late.

Solskjaer added: “Of course if you look at the league table it’s going to be difficult. We’ve got to make sure we turn up, win the next two games, play well and you never know.

“Points are being dropped left, right and centre in this race.”

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Man United 1-1 Chelsea: Mixed times for Spanish trio, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer worries grow

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Another calamitous mistake from discombobulated goalkeeper David de Gea played a defining role in Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea that should end hopes of Champions League qualification, while solidifying their opponents’.

England left-back Luke Shaw’s cross and Spain creator Juan Mata’s sharp low finish against his former paymasters earned a valuable early lead against fourth-placed visitors.

But Germany centre-back Antonio Rudiger’s shot was spilled by De Gea to the grateful Spain left-back Marcos Alonso on 43 minutes.

United then underwhelmed in a dire second half. It maintained a three-point gap to Chelsea, who are two points ahead of fifth-placed Arsenal with just two matches left.

A TALE OF THREE SPANIARDS

One Spaniard added zip, one gave hope with a revitalising opener and one took it all away with yet another unfathomable error.

This must-win match for United was detailed by their trio of Spain internationals.

All their futures, intriguingly, are in a similar parlous condition as their employers’ hopes of dining once again at Europe’s top table in 2019/20.

Uncertain De Gea’s fumble constituted a third blunder in four games. He’d made as many, according to Opta, in the previous 123.

Abortive contract renewal talks have broken his spirit and severely impacted United’s awful end to 2018/19. They should never have got into this situation.

Just like for Spain, Dave no longer Saves.

Midfielder Ander Herrera was back from injury after a month of limp displays in his absence.

The 29-year-old is not a world beater. But the failure to agree a deal with the Paris Saint-Germain target represents a blow.

Mata’s strike was superb against the outfit he played for from 2011-14. His craft is unquestioned, yet a lack of pace jars with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s – supposedly – energetic approach.

He shouldn’t be missed.

STATE OF PLAY

Where now for Solskjaer and his floundering United?

This match was a microcosm of the Norwegian’s reign. It started with surprising zest after seven losses from the previous nine fixtures, then a dispiriting two shots were registered in an impotent second-half siege.

United should never have been in the race for the top four. Their iconic former striker took over a team in December with a cavernous 11-point gap to fourth from sixth.

A three-point deficit is creditable, if unfulfilling.

Did Solskjaer show previously unseen genius in his early months, or is this recent descent a return to the mean?

A lack of tactical subtlety and solutions was reminiscent of jaded predecessor, Jose Mourinho.

Can he drive the vast changes required this summer? The jury remains out.

SANCHEZ IS A SCAPEGOAT

The incongruous relationship between Chile flop Alexis Sanchez’s wages and his performances on the park are a major talking point at United.

His dire displays have bled into contract talks that threaten the futures – and presents – of established performers like De Gea, Herrera and Paul Pogba.

After one touch off the substitutes’ bench in the midweek 2-0 defeat to Manchester City, this was hardly an improvement. In 25 minutes against Chelsea, he registered no attempts or key passes.

An abysmal cross-field pass deep into injury time ruined a promising counter-attack. He’s now got just one goal and three assists in 19 top-flight matches this term.

But United fans must spread their ire.

England striker Marcus Rashford made way for him, because of injury. He’s now scoreless in six games.

Strike partner Romelu Lukaku did well for the opener, yet last scored on March 6.

France striker Anthony Martial remained on the substitutes’ bench. England midfielder Jesse Lingard didn’t even make it that far, memories of an open-goal miss versus City still fresh.

A return of two clean sheets in 17 home Premier League games this term also points to endemic issues. So too them finishing bottom of the ‘big six’ mini-league for 2018/19.

Sanchez has caused untold damage at United. He, however, is not the only villain at the Theatre of Dreams.

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