David De Gea
David de Gea proved his quality yet again during Liverpool victory Getty

A lot's changed in the nine months since Liverpool, spearheaded by an on-fire Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, waltzed into Old Trafford and thrashed Manchester United during their brave but ultimately unsuccessful charge towards the Premier League title.

That afternoon ended with the home fans offering more defiance than any of their heroes on the pitch, as Liverpool walked all over David Moyes' side. In the midst of United's worst season in recent memory, that 3-0 defeat stung; there were no leaders or standout performers, just a disjointed side that was struggling to keep itself together, topped off by a red card for captain Nemanja Vidic.

Fast forward to December of this same year, and Brendan Rodgers' team headed out of Manchester without a goal, let alone a point to their name having endured the reverse of that fateful day's scoreline. United were ruthless, showing the same cutting edge that had put Southampton and Arsenal to the sword despite creating few chances, but in truth, as was the case in those games, they were indebted to a man that has seemingly made it his personal quest to be the club's talisman under Louis van Gaal.

This six-game winning streak, started by that scrappy win against Crystal Palace in November, has seen United dispatch opponents with incredible efficiency, despite being outplayed on more than one occasion. Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie have all enjoyed personal purple patches and have showed signs of an increasingly fruitful partnership, whilst Michael Carrick's return from injury has rather helpfully coincided with this incredibly heartening run of victories.

But let's make no bones about it; the star of this run has been David de Gea. It's no stretch to suggest that the Spaniard is currently in the best form of his career thus far, and looks stunningly confident even though United continue to let sides see far too much of their penalty area.

This weekend's game was a perfect example. Yes, United showed more composure, grit and determination against Liverpool in half an hour than they managed in 90 minutes of that game in March, but they still allowed Brendan Rodgers' side six clear sights at goal, and each one was rebuffed with interest by De Gea.

Mario Balotelli must still be wondering how the former Atletico Madrid keeper managed to keep out his snapshot from Raheem Sterling's pass, and Sterling himself saw two close-range efforts swallowed whole before being utterly bamboozled by De Gea's sheer confidence when 1-on-1 with the goal unguarded, after Jonny Evans' loose pass.

United aren't necessarily making things easy on their Iberian No.1, with Marcos Rojo's late withdrawal meaning that they have now used 19 different defensive combinations this season due to injuries. But somehow the Spaniard simply carries on as normal, refusing to be undermined by the constant reshuffling before him.

It's a far cry from the young man who was so quickly set upon after errors in the all-Manchester Community Shield and the league season opener at The Hawthorns back in 2011. De Gea was raw when he took over from Edwin Van Der Sar; tall, skinny and unable to control his area or deal with routine crosses, but in his first season at Old Trafford he was still showing glimpses of his incredible shot-stopping abilities and amazing reactions, notably tipping eventual team-mate Mata's powerful long-range effort over the bar at Stamford Bridge with his fingertips when the Spaniard was still at Chelsea.

It's easy to forget the way De Gea used to flap at crosses, and the apparent lack of confidence encouraged Sir Alex Ferguson to rotate him with Anders Lindegaard in the first half of United's 20<sup>th title-winning season, a situation that feels ludicrous now given how his game has evolved.

It's more than just his improvement when dealing with good deliveries and bulking up in the gym, too. De Gea has an aura surrounding him at present, and looks exceptionally difficult to beat. That's not to say that a more savvy poacher would not have punished those defensive errors on Sunday afternoon, but having seen Arsenal, Southampton and Stoke all fail to find a way past him at decisive moments, there's a pattern emerging that is difficult to ignore.

Louis van Gaal
Louis van Gaal should bow to David De Gea's contract demands and pay him whatever he demands. Getty Images

That Balotelli save, tipping his powerful shot onto the bar in a split second, faking out Sterling and forcing the England international out wide with the goal gaping, stopping Jack Wilshere thrice at the Emirates and those incredible stoppage time stops from Stoke's Mame Biram Diouf....it's becoming incredibly evident that Van Gaal has a matchwinner on his hands.

It's offering an incredible platform for the likes of Rooney, Mata and Van Persie to perform, too. At present, United have no cohesion in defence, and struggle to put teams under pressure for sustained periods, but the club's forwards appear to be growing in confidence on a weekly basis, taking what few chances come their way and offering decisive contributions.

Just look at United's first against Liverpool, with Sterling's shot blocked by De Gea in front of the Stretford End, swiftly followed some 20 seconds later by Rooney's opening goal. The man's abilities are provoking some incredible exuberance in his teammates at present.

Of course, that's causing many United fans to look over their shoulder in fear that Real Madrid will come calling soon. Despite De Gea's affinity with Atletico, turning down Spain's biggest club could prove difficult enough, yet with the widely agreed assertion that Iker Casillas is not the force he once was for club or country, performances like today' s could push him further to the forefront of Real's thinking, if he wasn't already there. Given how long it took United to find a true heir to Peter Schmiechel after he left the club post-Treble in 1999, news of a new contract for Dea Gea cannot come quickly enough.

That's a distraction from the present, however, and the reality is that Van Gaal has little to worry about in goal as he tries to get each of his team's departments purring. De Gea was rightly named Manchester United's player of the season during Moyes' turbulent reign, and given how vital his contributions have been of late, there's a big chance that he could be accepting the same award come next May with United in a far healthier, and happier, position. Should that be the case, you'd imagine Van Gaal will be desperate to keep one of the world's best goalkeepers firmly in Manchester.

The article was provided by Red Mancunian, one of the most popular Manchester United fan accounts in the world. You can follow them on Twitter here or go to www.redmancunian.com.