In the next few months, Ole Gunnar Solskjær will face the most critical decision in his tenure as Manchester United boss thus far. Should he retain faith in long-serving goalkeeper David De Gea, or trust in the promising academy product Dean Henderson? De Gea’s shakier form in recent matches shouldn’t detract from his role as United’s most dependable performer in the past decade, but Henderson’s impressive displays on loan at Sheffield United have created a conundrum for Solskjær.
Comparing the keepers
De Gea secured his 10th clean sheet in 32 Premier League appearances courtesy of the shut-out in the 3-0 stroll against Brighton on 30th June, with WhoScored statistics giving the player an average rating of 6.52 across those games. In the 29 league matches that Henderson played before the season ticked over into July, the loanee racked up a rating of 6.77. That rating was boosted by his 11 clean sheets.
A slightly more cruder but equally effective measurement of Henderson’s out performance of De Gea this campaign can be seen in the official Fantasy Premier League game, where Henderson has accumulated 135 points to De Gea’s 117. Henderson has benefited from being part of a settled defensive unit for two seasons at Sheffield United, but it is nonetheless a highly impressive debut campaign in the top flight for the 23-year-old.
Henderson has passed the eye test better than De Gea too, with a dreadful error against Liverpool in front of the BT Sport cameras a rarity in a largely reliable season. De Gea has not reached his customary high standards this season, with a mistake against Spurs prompting Roy Keane to declare that he was ‘sick to death of this goalkeeper.’ Solskjær won’t be giving the time of day to Keane’s bizarre rants, which prompted Talksport’s Tony Cascarino to declare that ‘there’s no place for that in football’, but there’s no denying that De Gea has shown signs of regressing to the player that arrived in the UK in 2011.
De Gea joined from Atletico Madrid as a flaky, flappy keeper that struggled early in his Old Trafford career, although a 20-year-old settling into a new country and adapting to new pressures was always going to face teething problems. By 2015, Leo Nieboer was waxing lyrical for us here at Red Mancunian about De Gea’s talents, calling the Spaniard ‘formidable, confident, and forceful’.
The Spaniard has largely delivered on those three adjectives in the last five years, with De Gea’s time spent settling in the Premier League paying dividends. Early expectations may be higher for Henderson, given that Manchester United fans have seen his dominating performances for the Blades this season in the Premier League. The same level would be expected from the outset if Henderson were to become number one at Old Trafford.
A massive decision
It is a tricky situation for Solskjær and his staff. Stay loyal to a keeper who has been world-class for years, despite some recent errors? Or give a new star the chance to develop to potentially become world-class? Henderson has shown an assurance in Sheffield that indicates he can handle the pressure, but there’s little point casting De Gea aside if United are unconvinced that Henderson can reach a similar level.
Solskjær may not have the luxury of blooding a newcomer in such a crucial position, given that he will be keen to prove his worth as a manager in European competitions. As of 1st July, Manchester United are 10/11 in the Betway top four finish market, reflecting the likelihood that Champions League football will be coming to Old Trafford next season. De Gea has a wealth of experience in European competitions, so Solskjær may see him as the safest pair of hands in the Champions League.
De Gea’s wealth of experience is revealed by his answers in ManUtd.com’s ‘With or Against’ series, with the Spaniard keeping net against players of the calibre of Samuel Eto’o and Gareth Bale. This experience is something that Henderson inevitably lacks at this stage of his career, and he may benefit from another season testing himself against Premier League marksmen before stepping up to Manchester United and elite continental competitions.
De Gea is still just 29-years-old, approaching a period of his career where many keepers take their game to the next level. There should be no guarantee that he remains in United’s goal for the next decade, but an on-form De Gea is one of the world’s best. Henderson would likely benefit from another loan spell at Sheffield United rather than a year on the Old Trafford bench. With more top-flight experience, Henderson will be ready and raring to go for United in 2021 if he can prove that he has become a better Premier League keeper than De Gea.