A seventh clean sheet in his 12th start for Manchester United last night gave goalkeeper Dean Henderson yet another reason for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to give him a regular spot in the starting line-up.
‘Solskjaer has repeatedly shown fidelity to a goalkeeper who has a wealth of credit but now appears more fragile than a record of five PFA team of the year nominations would suggest,’ says The Athletic’s Laurie Whitwell of first choice stopper, David de Gea.
‘The question lingers about the circumstances required for Henderson to get a sustained run.’
There are few if any better instinctive shot-stoppers in the world than De Gea and those spectacular saves are what get goalkeepers noticed. But when comparing De Gea and Henderson, that is perhaps the only area in which the Spaniard is superior.
Consistency is arguably the most important attribute of all for a goalkeeper. It is a position where a mistake leads to conceding a goal more than any other. In this area Henderson is way ahead of De Gea. Since the 2017/18 season, the Spaniard has made nine direct errors leading to an opposition goal, against Henderson’s two.
One of those two for the England man unfortunately came in one of his three Premier League games for United, against his former club, Sheffield United, but that came from trying to control a badly-judged backpass from Harry Maguire early in the game. However, it could be that the error left Solskjaer a little concerned as to whether he was replacing one error-prone keeper for another and Henderson has not played in the Premier League since.
It is not just about that ‘errors leading to goals’ statistic when it comes to consistency, either. De Gea has made several dubious contributions, including failures to claim the ball, weakness in the challenge and errors that did not lead to goal.
‘Solskjaer is quick to highlight De Gea’s impressive interventions, such as the double save to Mbaye Diagne at West Bromwich Albion… But familiar issues are persistent in De Gea,’ Whitwell notes.
(2) Command of the area
De Gea is and always has been very much a goal-line keeper and in truth, even at his peak, command of the box was always lacking to some extent. But that recently seems to have gone from bad to worse.
‘In that same game at the Hawthorns De Gea declined to come for Conor Gallagher’s cross that finished on Diagne’s head inside the six-yard box,’ says Whitwell.
‘For the visit of Everton De Gea melted to a challenge with Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Against Sheffield United De Gea was nudged off the ball for Kean Bryan’s goal in a way that may have been a foul but also betrayed the Spaniard’s supine approach to the rougher side of goalkeeping.’
Henderson, on the other hand, is not afraid to come off his line. In the dying minutes of yesterday’s match, a commanding leap to pluck the ball from around the penalty spot seemed a simple and yet effective breath of fresh air in the United defence.
(3) Motivating and organising
This is huge tick in favour of Henderson. Empty stadiums allow the cameras to pick up a lot of the players’ interactions and the Whitehaven man is one of the most vocal around. If memory serves correctly, nobody has ever reported overhearing De Gea shouting anything, but it is a constant theme with Henderson.
‘ Come on boys, we f—ing go, let’s f—ing go,’ he was overhead shouting at the start of last night’s game.
‘Come on Shola, express yourself!,’ he was heard yelling to United’s 17-year-old substitute.
‘Win this header,’ he bellowed at Axel Tuanzebe.
‘Early on in Thursday night’s return leg Henderson diffused a tense situation as the ball dropped behind Alex Telles by screaming to claim, and the rest of the match was marked by his vocal instructions,’ Whitwell summarises.
(4) Penalty situations
Few penalties get past Henderson, whilst few do not get past De Gea. It was in the 2015/16 season that the Spaniard last saved a penalty – although he will judge himself unlucky in the opening game this term when he did save from Crystal Palace’s Jordan Ayew, only for the VAR to rule that he had moved off his line.
Henderson has saved eight in that same period and whilst last night’s embarrassing miss by Oyarzabal was not a save, as Whitwell notes, ‘some credit should be afforded to Henderson for halting his dive as Oyarzabal shuffled. It seemed to perturb a player who had scored all 18 of his previous penalties.’
(5) Shot stopping
Even though this is De Gea’s forte as noted above, the Englishman’s statistics this season are better than the Spaniard’s. Henderson has a 78.6 percent save ratio and has conceded 0.14 goals over the expected, compared to 61.8 percent for De Gea and 2.40 over expectancy.
Rumours coming out of Old Trafford are that Henderson will not wait around again next season as De Gea’s understudy and will ask to leave if not given a fair crack of the whip in the Premier League. ‘There are people at Carrington who believe … a departure could follow,’ Whitwell reveals. ‘At least one Premier League club is actively monitoring developments.’
It could be a case of now or never for Solskjaer to give the 23-year-old the run in the side he so craves and the opportunity to prove that he is the future of Manchester United in the goalkeeping department.
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