In the 2020/21 season a debate broke out in the footballing world over Manchester United’s goalkeeping position, and who should be the number one for the club moving forwards into the new season. David De Gea had solidified himself as a club legend, but his form had been consistently dropping since the World Cup of 2018.
This meant that when Academy graduate goalkeeper Dean Henderson impressed in two consecutive loan moves to Sheffield United and was then called into the squad for the 2020/21 season, fans were anxious to find out whether this season would prove to be De Gea’s last as United number one.
The 2020/21 season began with business as usual, De Gea was United’s goalkeeper for league games and Champions League games, while Henderson was between the sticks for FA Cup games and Carabao Cup games. Before the turn of the year De Gea played 13 Premier League games, keeping only four clean sheets.
During this same period of time, Henderson played three Carabao Cup games, keeping clean sheets in all three, importantly two of these clean sheets came against Premier League opposition Brighton and Everton. During this period Henderson also played three Premier League games due to a minor injury to De Gea, while he kept a clean sheet in none, United did win all three of these games.
Heading into the new year, De Gea maintained his spot as number one and had a better record, playing 14 games and keeping six clean sheets before needing to leave the country to be with his Wife for the birth of their first child, as was reported by the club.
During this period, before the 3 March, Henderson played three games in the FA Cup keeping two clean sheets, with those clean sheets coming against Watford and West Ham. He also played one more game in the Carabao Cup against Manchester City, which United lost 2-0, and played two games in the Europa League against Real Sociedad, keeping a clean sheet in both legs.
Henderson’s chance came in the League when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer allowed David De Gea to be with his wife in Spain for the birth of his child, due to covid regulations, this meant that De Gea would be unavailable for an unknown period of time, Solskjaer stated; ‘Dean Henderson came in and played well and he’s ready. I’ll give David the time he needs of course’.
The manager recognising that Henderson is ‘ready’ shows that during the season Henderson had done enough in the games he was given to show he is of Premier League standard. In the 10 games Henderson went on to play in the league, the youngster kept four clean sheets.
When De Gea returned he was second choice, playing mostly in the Europa League which culminated with the Spaniard failing to save a penalty in the deciding penalty shootout in the final against Villareal, and ultimately missing the penalty that gave Villareal the victory, as was reported by BBC Sport. This showing in a final, which was United’s best hope of winning silverware since 2017, felt at the time like the last nail in the coffin of De Gea’s time as United’s number one.
However, after a disappointing Summer for Both Henderson and De Gea, with Henderson having to drop out of the England Squad for the Euros and De Gea being on the bench for all of Spain games, Henderson’s luck got worse, with the 24-year-old contracting Long Covid during the summer, keeping him out of action for the start of United’s season, as was reported by The Sunday Times.
This gave De Gea a clear run of games in the League to prove once more why he was the four-time winner of the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award, as reported by Sky Sports News, and that he could find that form again.
It is safe to say De Gea has had a great start to the season, showing form many fans haven’t seen in the keeper since the 2017/18 season. He made crucial saves in the win against Wolves and the draw against Southampton. His biggest redemption, however, came in the last minute of United’s 2-1 victory over West Ham in the league, with West Ham being awarded a penalty in the last minute to bring the game level, De Gea saved the penalty from Mark Noble.
This moment was important for many reasons, but perhaps most crucially it felt like redemption for the penalty shoot-out in the Europa League Final, it was also the first time De Gea had saved a penalty in the League Since October of 2014.
With De Gea looking to be finding his old form and Henderson still unavailable for selection, it seems as though the debates of last season over who should be United’s number one have now been put to bed, with De Gea comfortably secure in that spot, at least for the foreseeable.
Of course, this is just bad luck for Henderson, with the situation being taken out of his hands due to illness, but he has shown enough to United fans for them to know that when his time comes again, he can be the man to take over from the legendary David De Gea.
Written by Jennifer McCord