Manchester United have a decision on their hands; whether to choose a younger Dean Henderson between the sticks or continue with an erratic David de Gea.
In a crunch semifinal between two powerhouses, the game was precariously was balanced at 1-0.
The next goal was likely going to tilt the tie in the scorer’s favour and hence, both teams came out of the break aiming to keep their backdoor shut.
But early into the second half, some loose play in the final third gave the team in blue an opportunity to score and despite a tame shot from the local academy graduate, the ball found its way into the back of the net owing to a disappointing effort from the Spanish goalkeeper.
That error cost them the tie and was just another one in a long list of lapses in the previous 18 months from a player that had carried the club on his back for years.
That game we are talking about is the 2014-15 Champions League semifinal second leg between Real Madrid and Juventus, which marked the last time that club legend Iker Casillas played for the Los Blancos in the UEFA Champions League.
And much like that game and his error on Alvaro Morata’s shot sealed San Iker’s fate, the FA Cup semifinal on Sunday between Chelsea and Manchester United, where a similar story unfolded, could mark the end of David de Gea’s tenure as United’s #1 in goal.
Dean Henderson is the future
Away from the commotion at Old Trafford, United loanee Dean Henderson, who has been plying his trade with Sheffield United for two seasons, is having another tremendous season for the team from South Yorkshire.
The 23-year-old has kept 13 clean sheets, two fewer than league-leader Nick Pope and one more than de Gea. A magnificent shot-stopper, commanding in the air and good with the ball at his feet, Henderson is being sought by clubs in England and abroad, with London giants Chelsea keen to have the English goalkeeper on their books.
United though, have been insistent that Henderson is not for sale. Speaking about the keeper and his future, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was quoted as saying, "Dean's done really well for them and Sheffield United has been really good for him. He'll come back one day and he'll have a good career at Man United.”
The loanee himself is keen on making his mark at his boyhood club but is open to leaving the club if the opportunity doesn’t present itself. “I think it’s clear for everyone to know, I want to play for Manchester United and England. Maybe I’ll get the opportunity (to play for Man United), maybe I won’t, then I’ll have to look down a different avenue.’
Given Henderson’s incredible rise and upside, it’s impossible to see Manchester United parting ways with the Englishman. At just 23, the keeper has a full season’s experience under his belt in the Premier League and has shown that he is up to the task at that level.
With a slew of suitors and his own desire to play for the club, it would have been incredibly difficult for United to accommodate the keeper into the first XI, but the decision has been made slightly easier by David de Gea’s erratic performance over the past 18 months.
David de Gea has been United’s best player since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
The Spaniard making jaw-dropping saves was a weekly sight for close to three years and was usually the difference between winning and losing for United.
— The Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) July 19, 2020
However, since the start of last season, the Spaniard has seemingly lost his edge. He leads the Premier League in errors leading to goals with seven over the past 24 months and his error against Chelsea on Sunday further illustrates that de Gea, like Casillas in 2015, is on the decline.
With United finally finding some coherence in their outfield personnel, the last thing the club would want is an issue in the goalkeeping department.
Every goalkeeper is bound to an error once in a while, however, de Gea has been erratic for close to two years and no longer exhumes the same confidence he once did.
0 - Based on Opta's expected goals on target data (xGoT), David de Gea has conceded the same tally of goals that the model would expect the 'average' GK to concede over the last two PL seasons, compared to preventing 14 goals with his saves in the 2017-18 campaign alone. Regress? pic.twitter.com/eekug6tDr2
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 20, 2020
Manager Ole Gunnar Soslkjaer recently called him ‘the best goalkeeper in the world’, and while that was true not too long ago, the Spaniard can no longer lay a claim to that throne and may in fact not even be the best goalkeeper currently employed by Manchester United.
The club have a decision on their hands and right now, it seems clear. Henderson is six years younger than de Gea, better at commanding the box and while he has an error or so in him, he’s yet to commit a slew of those like the Spaniard.
Manchester United will forever be grateful for his incredible service, but as of today, it seems David de Gea is close to the end of his tenure as United’s #1 between the goalposts.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Peter Cziborra, Peter Powell