• Goalkeeper will be 'even better' next season, says manager
• Manchester City's Roberto Mancini targets cutting points gap
Sir Alex Ferguson has identified David de Gea's form as key to Manchester United's pursuit of the Premier League title, indicating a new, first choice goalkeeper is not a priority for the club this summer.
The 22-year-old had a predictably difficult start to his Old Trafford career following a £17.8m move from Atlético Madrid in 2011. De Gea's uncertain form led to United being linked with several, more seasoned alternatives, including Asmir Begovic at Stoke City, but a major improvement this season has led to the young Spaniard keeping six successive clean sheets in the Premier League.
Ferguson believes that an overall response to the defensive problems that plagued United at the start of the season has given his team the consistency required for a commanding lead at the top of the table. But he reserved individual praise for De Gea and insisted that the goalkeeper will make further strides next term.
The United manager said: "They have all improved. The concentration has become better and the importance of the games has helped that. But David de Gea has developed and matured as the season has gone on. Once again he had an excellent game the other day at Stamford Bridge. We've seen a very progressive and developing young goalkeeper and next season he'll be even better."
United take a 15-point lead over second-placed Manchester City into Monday's derby at Old Trafford but Roberto Mancini has claimed that is an unfair reflection on the reigning champions. "We don't deserve to stay 15 points behind," the City manager said. "They [United] have played well, they have won a lot of games and the last time they lost was at Norwich 18 games ago, so they deserve to stay on the top. But not by 15 points. It is not a true table. Now we have eight games. If we play well, win a lot of these games, then maybe we can reduce this gap. This should be our target."
City have failed to offer a meaningful defence of their title but, rather than blame the team's overall performances, Mancini believes only a lack of firepower has undermined the champions, who lost out to United in the race to sign £24m Robin van Persie last summer.
He said: "The difference is that we have scored 20 goals less than last year. Only this is the difference. We have conceded the same amount, we have the best defence again, but we are missing only these goals. We had a lot of injuries, we lost Sergio [Agüero], we lost Mario [Balotelli, sold to Milan in January] and Mario scored 15 goals last season. We need to improve our team. Not like last summer. We are a young team. It is only two years that we have played for the title."