Whilst the last few summers at Manchester United have been dominated by transfer speculation after transfer speculation after transfer speculation, the summer of 2020 had an interesting sub-plot.
The return of Dean Henderson, on loan at Sheffield United last season, had many questioning whether David De Gea’s first team place was under serious threat, realistically, for the first time in his United career. After a few errors last season, there were a few murmurs that Sergio Romero should be given a chance. Whilst De Gea was struggling at Old Trafford, Dean Henderson was flourishing in his first Premier League season. After helping Sheffield United to promotion the season earlier, a second season on loan was agreed and it could arguably be seen as one of the transfers of the season.
Sheffield United shocked everyone, finishing ninth and earning plaudits from everyone. Henderson himself, would earn his first England cap off the back of 13 clean sheets for the newly promoted side. As the season drew to a close, the obvious question arose. Who would be United’s number in the next season? Would it be Henderson or De Gea? As we have seen, so far it has been De Gea. United manager, Ole Gunner Solskjaer, has huge trust in his number one. He stood by him last season and De Gea hasn’t really let him down this season. Henderson has played a few cup games and the odd league game, but as we enter 2021, should Henderson be number one next season?
It is hard to use this season’s performances when Henderson has made far fewer appearances. In the games he has played he’s done what he’s needed to bar one big error. Ironically, it was against his former side, Sheffield United. Dallying on the ball, he was robbed of the ball in his own six-yard box costing his side the opening goal, however United would go onto win the game. He would play in the Carabao Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester City as well as the most recent FA Cup win against Watford.
He also made his Champions League debut in the shocking 2-1 defeat in Istanbul. It is odd to think that whilst defeat in that game would be a catalyst for United exiting the competition, it will probably lead to more game time for Henderson, via the Europa League. Last season, Romero played most of the Europe League games and it would be a surprise if Henderson wasn’t given those game too, but as alluded too earlier you can’t really compare De Gea and Henderson based on this season.
So, what can we judge them on? As Henderson has only played one full season in the Premier League, last season would be a good place. Both goalkeepers managed 13 clean sheets each, although Henderson (33), conceded three less than De Gea. Expected goals conceded stats also show in Henderson’s favour. He conceded 5.2 goals less than he should have, De Gea only 2.2. The same stats show that Henderson was better at defending crosses then his teammate and that he made more passes then the Spaniard, showing that he is more comfortable playing out from the back. United, especially this season, have shown weaknesses defending crosses and the stats show that Henderson might be better dealing with them. Of course, not all crosses are defended by the goalkeeper, but that added protection is never a bad thing.
What can’t be looked past is the position that Sheffield United now find themselves. Since losing Henderson, the Blades have nose-dived. Bottom of the table. Just two points in 17 games. 29 goals conceded. That’s just four goals less then Henderson conceded in 36 games last season. Of course, other issues have to be taken into consideration. They’ve only scored 8. They lost Jack Egan and have suffered plenty of other injuries throughout the season. John Lundstrum refusing to sign a new contract won’t have helped either, but losing Henderson was a huge blow.
Of course, if you’re judging Henderson’s impact since he’s left, you have to judge De Gea since Henderson has come in. United are sitting second in the league, level on points with Liverpool, with a game in hand. If Henderson has directly affected Sheffield United’s fortunes, then should we be looking at De Gea’s improved performances the same? Possibly, of course United’s good form began when Bruno Fernandes arrived last January, and it has continued since. De Gea has only kept four clean sheets in 14 games, so it’s hard to put the good form down to just his performances.
Realistically, it’s going to be hard for Henderson to usurp De Gea for the number one jersey. As we entered this season, many believed that De Gea was a couple of big mistakes away from losing his place. We haven’t seen said mistakes. That is probably because Henderson is keeping him on his toes. United will have been delighted to have tied Henderson down on a long-term contract. It means they have time. It would be a surprise that he was still number two by the time that came to an end.
Most believe that Henderson is the future, however, he may have to be patient with cup games for the time being. It’s hard to drop your number one for the last ten years when you’re sitting joint top with a game in hand. However, the stats show that when Henderson does get his chance over a period of games, he’s unlikely to let anyone down.
Written by Huw Rawlings