It is inarguable that David de Gea has been Manchester United’s saviour on so many occasions during their “transition period”. A transition period that seems to be dragging on longer than Fergie time on a broken Howard Webb watch! So much so, that I’m surprised that the Manchester United hero hasn’t appeared with his underwear outside of his shorts in some instances. However, much like Captain America’s final scene in the Avengers movies, even superheroes must concede that someday the time will come for them to hand the baton over to the next generation.
Loved by the United faithful, whilst de Gea’s stats still show that he is capable of playing at the highest level with a save percentage of 71% this season so far, a quick look back to only 2 seasons ago shows that his star is sadly fading. In the 2017/18 season, the very same stat shows that de Gea kept out 10% more of what was thrown (or rather kicked) his way, with a save percentage of 81%, parallel to the current figures shown by Alisson Becker at champions elect Liverpool. Add to this the latest in an ever-increasing montage of unforced errors that saw a shot from Bergwijn somehow slip through his torso, even though it was straight at him. As well as Roy Keane coming in swinging verbally about wanting to do the very same literally, and it’s fair to say that Manchester United could be forgiven for thinking of cashing in on their asset, who is still valued between £36m – £50m depending on who you listen to.
The Heir to the Throne
Enter Dean Henderson. Henderson’s rise to prominence may seem like a new thing, but the 23 year old prospect has been carefully managed by United having been sent on loan to be Shrewsbury Town’s first choice custodian in League 1 during the 2017/18 season. This was followed by spending a promotion winning season with Sheffield United in the Championship where he continues today, ever-present as their number one in the EPL.
It’s when these three seasons are analysed in comparison to de Gea’s past three seasons that the argument for Henderson becomes a strong one. The stats lend themselves well to comparison due to the similarities in playing time, with Henderson averaging just under 3 games more than de Gea per season. Sure, you could argue (as I’m sure some may) that League 1 and the Championship are inferior to the might and quality of the EPL, but such discrepancies matter much less when discussing goalkeepers considering the measurements involved in the process.
The simple fact of the matter is that the most fundamental aspect of a goalkeeper’s job is to stop the opposition scoring. And in all the metrics used to measure this, Dean Henderson has out-performed David de Gea.
On average, Henderson has conceded less goals in total, averaging 5 less per season, whilst his average goals against per 90 minutes trumps de Gea’s, having conceded an average of 0.21 less GA90. Furthermore, Henderson’s average save percentage stands at 77%, compared to the 74% shown by de Gea. A statistic that becomes even more prominent when you consider the year on year drop shown in the figures of de Gea, compared to the reasonably consistent figures shown by Henderson.
Just as kryptonite is a weakness for Superman, it appears from the figures that the current chink in Henderson’s armour is his passing. Henderson’s passing completion statistics evidence that he falls below not only de Gea, but also a long way behind both Alisson Becker and Ederson of Liverpool and Manchester City respectively. This comparison may seem unfair to some as we’re talking about two of the finest distributing goalkeepers in the world, but in the modern game the position has evolved to include elements of the “quarterback” and there’s no better benchmark to meet at the highest level, than the two Brazilian behemoths.
In this regard, Henderson is a throwback to the good old English goalkeepers of yesteryear. Evidenced not only by his average pass length, that far exceeds his rivals by well over 20 yards, but also in the substantially lower completion statistics shown by him. All of these facts suggest that there is an air of a “get rid”, or more likely “lump it up to the target man” mentality in his and Sheffield United’s general play, especially considering the fact that he has made 29 more successful passes into the final third (37), than his nearest rival Ederson (8), despite these lowly completion statistics.
Is the Time Right?
It’s a bold move by the 23 year-old Henderson to demand first-team football before signing a new Manchester United contract, but is it warranted? When it is simplified down to the bread and butter of goalkeeping, then Dean Henderson should definitely be wearing the Manchester United No1 jersey next season. Yes, his distribution statistics don’t appear to lend themselves well to the brand of football that Manchester United try to play, but in reality, these figures are slightly exacerbated by the difference in systems of the two United’s, as well as the calibre of players in each squad. That said, sometimes this current Manchester United team does lack the quick counter-attack of old, and with the pace of Messrs Rashford, Martial and James latching on to those final third entry passes, this could add a dangerous dimension to the United attack. So maybe the time has come for Ole to give him the shirt and cash in on poor David, whilst he still costs more than a Freddo bar.