Ole Gunnar Solskjaer claims Dean Henderson is “maturing all the time” as the England international takes small steps towards dislodging David de Gea as Manchester United’s first-choice goalkeeper.
The Premier League matchday gloves have gone to De Gea on a regular basis for coming up to 10 years at United, often even when the Spaniard’s reliability has been called into question.
Henderson had a short run in the side late last year, starting twice in the league after De Gea took a knock that forced him to be substituted at Southampton.
But De Gea quickly returned to favour once fit and has remained Solskjaer’s go-to goalkeeper for domestic league games, with Henderson mostly picking up appearances in the FA Cup, EFL Cup and the occasional European match.
A clean sheet against Real Sociedad, as United won 4-0 in the Europa League on Thursday, was exactly what Henderson would have wanted.
It led to questions about why the goalkeeper who shone on loan for Sheffield United last season is not getting more opportunities with the Red Devils.
Former United midfield star Paul Scholes said on BT Sport: “Ole must know he’s a quality keeper but does he have the trust in him that he’s better than David de Gea at the minute? I don’t think he does. Because with the mistakes David made, he would have been in if he had full trust in him.”
Solskjaer is keen to praise both Henderson and De Gea, but it would be a major shock if it was the former who lined up against Newcastle United in the Premier League this Sunday.
“Of course Dean is in with a shout,” Solskjaer said in the wake of the Sociedad game. “He was clean in his handling, clean in his performance, so it was a good performance.
“He’s maturing all the time, but I have a very good goalkeeper in David and he saved us against West Brom.
“I always speak to the players first before I say who’s not playing so they’ll know.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd_Es) February 18, 2021
Henderson this season has a save percentage of 76.92, far exceeding De Gea’s modest 61.70 per cent.
De Gea kept out 71.97 per cent of shots last season, and his percentage this term is far worse than for any campaign since joining United in 2011 from Atletico Madrid. A 2013-14 rate of 68.57 per cent ranks as his lowest save percentage for a full season.
Englishman Henderson has played in only 12 games this season, against De Gea’s 27 matches, and the opposition has at times been more modest, but those figures suggest United may soon be wise to make a change.
Henderson has conceded nine times and De Gea has been beaten 36 times.
A strong performance last time out in the 1-1 draw at West Brom, as Solskjaer mentioned, has made De Gea difficult to drop for now.
But United are working on Henderson’s game, looking for the marginal gains that can advance his career.
When it comes to distributing the ball to players within his own half, Henderson has a 90.29 per cent accuracy rate this season, compared to 88.32 from De Gea.
However, the Spaniard is proving more adept at finding team-mates in the opposition half, topping Henderson by 31.03 per cent to 16.42 per cent in that category.
An early chance for Marcus Rashford against Sociedad came from a kick upfield by Henderson that gave the striker a chance to run behind the Spanish team’s defence.
It was no fluke that the goalkeeper almost created a goal, with United encouraging Henderson to strengthen that area of his game.
“He was very solid, good kicking and could have – should have – had an assist for Marcus,” Solskjaer said, “which is another thing we worked on.”
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