Down The Wings

Manchester United Fan Blog

Who will be Manchester United’s number one this season?

David de Gea or Dean Henderson (Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Manchester United will be starting their campaign for the 2021/22 season this weekend, carrying some of the problems from last season. One of the most controversial is the goalkeeping conundrum. United currently have four goalkeepers in the squad but only two i.e., David De Gea and Dean Henderson are deemed to be considered the first choice, but the real complication is choosing between the two.

Just 4 days shy of the opening day and Solskjaer is yet to give any hint about who will be the number one goalkeeper this season. De Gea celebrated a decade between the sticks in United’s final pre-season fixture vs Everton but seems to be on the downside of the pecking order for Solskjaer. Having spent most of his time as the first-choice goalkeeper with minimum competition, De Gea seemed to have been rattled by the arrival of Henderson from his loan spell at Sheffield United.

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Let’s talk about the freshman, Dean Henderson, first. Having spent the last quarter of the season as the number one, Henderson seems to have settled in the position. Henderson initially seemed too desperate to prove his abilities which led to some mistakes in matches against Sheffield United in the last season. But since then, Henderson has adapted quite well and has formed great chemistry with the United backline. The young goalkeeper’s communication with the backline is one of his strengths. The closed-door matches allowed us to hear how Henderson communicates and how proactive he is while giving out instructions to his defenders. This was evident in matches against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, where we saw Henderson berating his backline and proactively coming out to stop certain through balls. The English international’s good distribution also led to the second goal in the away derby match for Luke Shaw. Henderson’s ability to read the game and energetically snuff out danger or make decisive long throws and passes is something he definitely has the upper hand over his Spanish counterpart.

Henderson has over 75% on save percentage for two consecutive seasons, beating De Gea’s record for both seasons and has a higher match to clean sheets ratio than the Spanish international. Henderson also possesses a natural aggressive mentality which is visible in the way he conducts himself. Jose Mourinho was quoted saying that a young Henderson demanded to be the number one goalkeeper once he comes back from his loan spell at Shrewsbury. This kind of aggressiveness is needed from the goalkeeper to not only intimidate the opposition but also give the defensive unit confidence to play higher up the field. Henderson also has the traits of a modern goalkeeper, who has great aerial presence and performs the sweeping role quite well. These qualities are not considered to be strengths of De Gea, who is a great shot-stopping goalkeeper. Henderson also formed a great partnership with Lindelöf and Maguire which allows the United centre backs to play higher up and push the opposition back.

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David De Gea is considered one of the best reflex goalkeepers of his generation with an impressive ability to stop shots from close as well as long-range with cat-like reactions. In saying that, this is something that seems to be on the wane. In spells though, we have seen glimpses of the “that” De Gea that was United’s saviour for so long. De Gea was impressive Roma in the away leg of the Europa League’s semi-final that got United over the line, such performances are too far and few between, however.

De Gea seems to have lost his confidence and looks more passive. His inability to dominate aerially when crosses are sent into the box combined with his reluctance to come out frequently has led to United conceding too many goals. The 30-year-old is also not the physically imposing presence that Henderson boasts. A classic example of this is when United lost to Sheffield United in January with the first goal coming from the corner, where De Gea was easily shoved by Billy Sharp which led to the goal and an abysmal clearance leading to the second.

De Gea has 10 years of service at the club which makes him the front runner for the first choice in many fans opinion as a push towards loyalty seems popular. However, De Gea’s lack of confidence is a major problem should United want to achieve their aspirations of seriously challenging on all fronts.

With Raphael Varane’s imminent arrival and Solskjaer rumoured to be planning to play an aggressive 4-3-3 formation, the goalkeeper’s profile will play an important role in successfully adopting this formation. United now need a more sweeping and dominant goalkeeper who can cover the backline and push them higher up the field. This perfectly suits Henderson’s strengths and would also make United’s backline more settled than with De Gea. Every goalkeeper needs to be assured about his position in the team to perform at the top level without the pressure of losing his position but also keeping him on toes with a great second choice goalkeeper. Manchester United has both things, a young and vibrant Henderson and an experienced De Gea, and it’s now time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to make Dean Henderson his first-choice goalkeeper.

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