Manchester United have a conundrum with regard to the goalkeeping department as David de Gea and Dean Henderson battle it out for the No.1 spot.
The upcoming summer will see David de Gea complete a decade as a player for Manchester United. Having arrived at Old Trafford as a lanky youngster with immense potential, the Spaniard grew into one of the best goalkeepers in the world during his time in M-16.
Even as Manchester United’s stature as the best club in England took a beating year after year following Sir Alex Ferguson’s department, David de Gea was one of the few positives that kept the fans going with his scintillating performances between the sticks.
However, as his tenth-year anniversary looms, his place in the Manchester United lineup has never been called into question as it has been now after some dodgy displays between the sticks. Matters haven’t been helped as his status as the Red Devils’ No. 1 has meant a promising homegrown talent from the academy in Dean Henderson has had to warm the benches.
The situation hasn’t been ideal for anyone, with de Gea having to watch over his back with concerns over his position while Henderson sits frustrated on the sidelines. In the meantime, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to field awkward questions every time there is a misstep from his anointed first-choice goalkeeper.
This past Saturday, The Sun claimed that Manchester United had decided to address the situation head-on by offloading one of the two goalkeepers at the end of the season – either on a permanent basis or on a loan deal. And while it may not be the most popular choice, but perhaps the time is ripe for Manchester United to part ways with de Gea.
David de Gea – a Manchester United icon
Till date, de Gea has made 433 appearances for the 20-time English champions, keeping 152 clean sheets. He, along with the out of favour Phil Jones, remain the only two players at Manchester United from the club’s last Premier League triumph in 2012/13.
During a period when the club was going through a decline, David de Gea was a beacon of hope for the supporters. Irrespective of how the rest of the team played, the fans knew that they could always count on their Spanish hero to deliver when the team needed.
It is not for nothing that the 30-year-old has made the Premier League Team of the Year for five seasons during his time at Old Trafford while he has also won Manchester United’s Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year Award four times, along with three Manchester United Players’ Player of the Year accolade on three occasions as well.
Powers on the wane…
It must, however, be noted that none of the aforementioned individual awards and accolades have come after 2018. Indeed, after that one horrific moment against Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2018 FIFA World Cup for Spain against Portugal, de Gea has not been the player he once was.
While he is still very much capable of producing heroics on his day, as was witnessed recently in Manchester United’s 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion, a lot of errors have started to creep into his game over the past couple of seasons.
The Spanish international’s shot-stopping ability remains second to none. However, other aspects of his game are starting to get exposed on a regular basis of late, casting questions over his place. It is true that he hasn’t been helped by the inconsistent defence in front of him, but Manchester United cannot afford to ignore the obvious signs of decline.
For one, now that he is playing in a much better team than for most of his United career, de Gea’s distribution from the back has come under the scanner. In addition, the former Atletico Madrid youngster has always been suspect with how he deals with corners and crosses, lacking the command inside the box, something which has only gotten worse in recent times.
From boasting a save percentage of over 70% in the 2018/19 and 2019/20 campaign, the 30-year-old has dropped down to 64.8% in that aspect this term. In comparison, Manchester City’s Ederson has 80.4%. His crosses-stopped-per-ninety-minutes this terms stands at 4.8%, placing him in the tenth percentile, meaning 90% of the goalkeepers in the Premier League boast a better tally.
Since 2018, de Gea has also made 8 errors leading to goals in the Premier League – only Everton’s Jordan Pickford (10) has made more. De Gea, by no means, is done at this level. At 30, he still has plenty left to offer. However, it would be fair to say that the Spaniard is no longer the same level of player he used to be.
Henderson – The future of Manchester United
There is no denying that de Gea is an iconic figure at Manchester United who has bailed them out of difficult situations on countless occasions over the last decade. However, it is time for the club to look at the future as they look to build a team to usher in a new era of success at Old Trafford.
And, Henderson, in that respect, represents the future of Manchester United. The Englishman enjoyed two brilliant back-to-back seasons out on loan at Sheffield United, first helping them earn promotion to the Premier League and then playing a key role in them punching well above their weight in the 2019/20 campaign.
And whenever he has been given a chance by Solskjaer this season, the Manchester United academy product has stepped up and performed. Yes, there have been mistakes but the fact that he commands his area with much more intent should not be overlooked. Indeed, Henderson is one of the loudest voices heard on the pitch when he is playing as he goes about organizing his defence.
The Englishman is not fazed when coming out to collect crosses or punch them out. Over the course of the season, he has also shown considerable improvement in his distribution – case in point his quick release to Fred in the lead-up to Marcus Rashford’s goal against Real Sociedad last week – something which Solskjaer himself has alluded to.
Given that he has played just three times in the Premier League this term, the sample size is not big enough, But Henderson has posted a save percentage of 74.2% and has stopped 5.1% of the crosses he has faced per ninety minutes. Again, not a big sample size, but better numbers compared to de Gea in both parameters.
With recent reports claiming that he has grown frustrated over his situation and will look to force an exit in the summer, amid interest from the likes of Chelsea, West Ham and Tottenham should be a concern for Manchester United, for they risk losing a player who could be the first-choice goalkeeper at Old Trafford for the next decade.
De Gea is Manchester United’s highest earner with wages close to £400,000-a-week. For a player commanding such a huge pay packet, it is only normal for the club and the fans to expect nothing short of the best. And while he is capable of producing top-class displays, there are enough signs that he is on a decline.
In Henderson, Manchester United have a player who has made all the right noises and shown that he can easily slot in as the club’s first-choice custodian in the long-term. Yes, he has made a few mistakes, but the same held true for de Gea when he started out at Old Trafford almost a decade ago.
So, as difficult as it may be, it might be time for Manchester United to part ways with David de Gea. It would open up a lot of room on the club’s wage bill, while any proceeds from his sale – Juventus, Bayern Munich and PSG are all reportedly interested in signing him – can be invested in strengthening the squad.
In addition, it would also ensure that the 20-time English champions don’t end up losing Henderson, who is the future of the club.