“He’s not the most patient guy ever,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remarked when commenting on Dean Henderson’s temperament. And who can blame him?
The 23-year-old goalkeeper has had to sit and play second fiddle to David de Gea at Manchester United this season, despite having been the star of the show for Sheffield United during the two previous campaigns
But given some of the mistakes that the Spain international has made this term, you can forgive Henderson for becoming impatient over his lack of playing time after committing himself to the Red Devils in pre-season.
“Nobody is guaranteed a place in the team like a season ticket card here,” Solskjaer said ahead of the meeting with the Toffees. “You’ve got to perform to be part of the success of Man Utd.”
He backed that up post-match by insisting that no player’s place is safe in his current line-up, and if those claims hold true then surely De Gea must be on thin ice?
In truth, Henderson will play against West Ham on Tuesday because he has become the team’s cup goalkeeper rather than because of anything De Gea has done, but now he may believe that a strong showing could rubber-stamp his place in Solskjaer’s XI for Sunday’s trip to West Brom.
Aside from two-and-a-half Premier League matches, Henderson has been limited to knockout games and one Champions League group-stage fixture since his return to Old Trafford. In the summer, Solskjaer was strong in his assertions that the academy graduate would get the chance to prove himself, but few would agree that has been followed through on.
What does seem to be clear is that Solskjaer remains reluctant to end De Gea’s run as the undisputed number one, despite Henderson clearly being the long-term option who at some point will usurp his more senior colleague.
The Norwegian cannot say he was not warned that this situation would rear its head at some point during the campaign, either.
“If De Gea makes a mistake in week two, you know what the media are going to say: ‘Is this the moment Henderson comes in?’ Ole is going to have that question hanging over him all the time, potentially, during the season,” explained former United captain Gary Neville back in September.
“It’s something that’s going to provide a challenge for him [Solskjaer] to manage.”
Solskjaer has managed the situation so far, despite De Gea’s failure to react quickly enough to deny Justin Kluivert cited as a major reason for United’s exit from the Champions League at the hands of RB Leipzig.
The fact that the former Atletico Madrid shot-stopper committed a similar error to allow Dominic Calvert-Lewin to score a stoppage-time equaliser on Saturday will have concerned his manager, though, and his failure to command his area speaks to the main difference between he and Henderson.
Despite having comparatively less experience, Henderson is noticeably a lot more vocal, with De Gea generally difficult to hear even inside empty stadia, aside from a loud rant he aimed in Fred’s direction against Southampton earlier in the campaign.
While the notion of being ‘commanding’ cannot be truly measured, the raw statistics suggest Henderson came into this season already ahead of his rival for the jersey having made more saves, punches, high claims and sweeper clearances on his way to equalling De Gea’s record of 13 league clean sheets in 2019-20.
And so while there are those that will apportion some of the blame for Calvert-Lewin’s goal at the weekend towards Harry Maguire, right now there is no one who realistically deserves to come in and replace the centre-back.
The same cannot be said for De Gea, and if Henderson shines in the FA Cup against David Moyes’ side, then Solskjaer may finally have to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to his goalkeeping situation.
Culled from Goal