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Is Dean Henderson finally out of De Gea's shadow at Manchester United?

David De Gea and Dean Henderson.<p>" height="500" width="800" />
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Modified 30 Mar 2021
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David De Gea and Dean Henderson.

David de Gea finds his no.1 jersey under serious threat for the first time in his Old Trafford career, and the reason is emerging young Manchester United prodigy Dean Henderson.

Dean Henderson has been a consistent performer on the domestic circuit for a couple of years now and has been reducing the distance between him and De Gea for a while. And this season he has finally got the opportunity to dethrone De Gea - the four-time Manchester United Player of the Year.

There is no disputing the world-class ability David de Gea possesses, and there will be quite a few groans among United supporters on suggestions Manchester United should finally move on from De Gea, but the Spaniard's dipping performance graph over the past 2 seasons is there for all to see.

Critics feel De Gea never recovered from his disappointing performances at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and they cannot be brushed aside completely as this ever-reliant shotstopper has been making uncharacteristic errors in the past two seasons.

Contrast this to Dean Henderson's fortunes. He has gone from strength to strength within the space of a few seasons.

The youngster was sent on loan to League One Shrewbury Town in 2017-18, and he was crowned their Player of the Year immediately, while securing a place in the League One PFA Team of the Year.

The next season he went to Sheffield United and won the Championship Golden Glove en route to helping secure Sheffield United's long awaited return to the Premier League. He renewed his loan at Sheffield united for the 2019-20 season, and performed even better than last season, helping the club attain their highest ever league position of 9th in the Premier league.

The 2020-21 season was touted as one where he would return to stake a claim at Manchester United's goalkeeping position, and it is fair to say that the goalkeeping duel has not been disappointing.

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Dean Henderson has proven his worth to Manchester United by keeping 11 clean sheets in the 19 appearances he has made, conceding just 11 goals in the process. However, when it comes to the Premier League, it is clear to see that David De Gea is still Solksjaer's favorite as Dean has been limited to just 6 appearances in the Premier League.

However, he stepped up when De Gea was absent due to personal reasons, and helped Manchester United through a sticky patch in which the suffered from a lack of form to give Manchester City a clear route to the title. He has kept 3 clean sheets in the 6 appearances he has made till date, conceding just 3 goals in the process.

Title winning teams are often built on the foundation of a settled playing 11 with quality options off the bench, and that has definitely been the case for Manchester United's winning teams of the past, but one position that is more or less fixed, is that of the goalkeeper's.

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Thus, even though Solskjaer may keep saying publicly that it's a nice conundrum he faces having both David and Dean pushing each other, the reality is that he has to choose between the two as his main man between the sticks for Manchester United to lead a title charge. So how do the numbers and playing style of both goalkeepers compare?

Who suits better to lead Manchester United's title charge?

If we compare the goalkeeping stats of both from the last season, it is clear to see that they had similar stats after the 2019-20 season. While David de Gea kept 13 clean sheets for Manchester United, Dean had the same number of clean sheets playing for Sheffield United.

Both made approximately the same number of saves, similar save percentages, and both earned wide acclaim for their shot-saving capabilities. However, where Dean Henderson was miles ahead of De Gea was in showing fearlessness in coming off the line to snuff out the danger.

De Gea has often been criticised for his unwillingness to come off his line and has been urged by critics to be more adventurous, and Dominic Calvert Levin's stoppage time equaliser at Goodison park was the latest setback Manchester United suffered due to this deficiency.

In the 2019-20 season, Dean Henderson had 16 punches, 20 high claims and 8 sweeper clearances in the Premier League as compared to De Gea's 9 punches, 10 high claims and 3 sweeper clearances, as per Premier League data.

The trend has continued this season as well, with Henderson making 3 punches, 3 high claims and 5 sweeper clearances in just 6 Premier league appearances as compared to De Gea's 6 punches, 2 high claims and 10 sweeper clearances in 24 appearances for Manchester United this term.

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Dean Henderson is undoubtedly more comfortable coming out of his penalty box to claim crosses, a department De Gea is definitely weaker in. Both have similar passing accuracy for United, but Henderson has been more adventurous in this department, as was obvious in his well-thought-out throw to Luke Shaw which led to Manchester United's 2nd goal against City at the Etihad.

Does this mean Manchester United should favour Dean Henderson as their No. 1? Not quite yet. For all his deficiencies, David de Gea remains one of the best shotstoppers in world football, with his quick reflexes often thwarting close-range attacks that are almost certain to be converted into a goal.

This is an area where De Gea is definitely superior to Dean, as was obvious in Henderson's inability to stop Simone Kjaer's stoppage-time equaliser for AC Milan at Old Trafford in the Europa League. This also became glaringly obvious in Manchester United's FA Cup tie against Leicester City.

The whole team performed poorly in that game, but Henderson was expected to stop Leicester's 2nd and 3rd goals. This is perhaps why Solskjaer still prefers to go with the experienced Spaniard in the Premier League, but he clearly sees Henderson as a future No.1 at the Theatre of Dreams.

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So it is not quite easy to predict what might be the case in the future, but this summer transfer window will definitely pose big questions to Solskjaer. He will also have to decide whether having two world-class keepers with first-team ambitions in his squad is a nice dilemma to have or not. Whoever stands between the sticks next season for Manchester United, the fans will be hoping he plays a huge part in helping the club launch a title challenge.

Published 30 Mar 2021, 22:47 IST
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