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TY ZE Manchester United have three options to solve their goalkeeping dilemma – Man Utd
June 22, 2021

Man Utd

News

Manchester United have three options to solve their goalkeeping dilemma

4 min read

If the selection of David de Gea for the Europa League final was an indication that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had settled on his Manchester United No. 1, then what transpired in Gdansk will not have helped to convince the Norwegian he’d made the right decision.

Dean Henderson was brought back to Old Trafford this season to challenge De Gea, but 12 months on the picture is no clearer for Solskjaer.

Henderson started 25 games for United in 2020/21 and he was a reliable, solid performer. De Gea started 36 and he seemed to end the season as he started it – as first-choice.

His selection for the Europa League final was earned in the second leg of the semi-final, a stunning display against Roma that staved off any threat of United capitulating from a 6-2 lead. But the final weeks of the season showed clarity in goal has been hard to come by this season.

For the final seven games of the season De Gea and Henderson passed the gloves on, rotating in and out of the side. Rotation might be part of the modern game now, but it doesn’t really work in goal, as Solskjaer himself admitted ahead of the final day of the Premier League season.

“It’s been a strange season in that respect with regards to goalkeeping. At United most of the time we’ve had a No. 1 who has been playing most of the games,” he said.

“We brought Dean back to challenge David and he’s had a very good season. David flew home for the birth of his baby which gave Dean a longer run in the team and he really played well and established himself as a very good goalkeeper. He’s learnt a lot from it.

“But David is David, he’s really played well as well, he’s buckled down and really taken on the challenge. I’m really pleased with the two of them, it’s difficult to have that kind of rotation, you don’t rotate that much normally, I’ll have to find a solution for next year definitely.”

Now United’s second successive 61-game season is at an end, it is time for Solskjaer to find that solution. But if he had pivoted back to De Gea by the time the final came around, the disastrous penalty shootout against Villarreal will have put fresh doubt in his mind. This was less about De Gea’s miss from 12 yards than his failure to save any of the 11 penalties he faced. That’s now 40 penalties in a row for club and country that he’s failed to keep out.

De Gea’s mind seemed to be scrambled in Gdansk. He began the shootout by guessing which way takers would go, then tried to stand up for a couple, then went back to guessing. By the end he also appeared to have both feet in front of the line, casting any save he would have made null and void. It was an awful experience for him.

Who should Manchester United’s No. 1 be next season? Have your say in the comments section.

Over the course of a full campaign this has probably been De Gea’s best in three years, but concerns remain. He’s still prone to the odd error, hasn’t been proactive enough in coming for crosses or sweeping up behind United’s high line and isn’t as skilled as many modern goalkeepers with his feet.

In his extended audition, Henderson showed he is better with his feet and is happy to be a more aggressive goalkeeper with his starting position and under the high ball. But he wasn’t faultless either and he’s impatient to reach the top. He wants to be No. 1 for club and country now.

That makes neither solution a perfect one, but Solskjaer seems to have accepted keeping both De Gea and Henderson at the club next year won’t be possible. Someone will be disappointed and continuing to rotate them is going to lead to more uncertainty.

Selling De Gea would ease the burden on the wage bill, with the 30-year-old commanding around £375,000 a week, and it would allow an academy graduate to become the first-choice goalkeeper. Alternatively, Henderson would command a larger transfer fee that can be reinvested elsewhere in the squad, with Solskjaer placing his faith in De Gea rediscovering his very best form.


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Solskjaer may even consider a nuclear option. If he feels that neither De Gea or Henderson are his No. 1 he could sanction departures for both and try to sign a ready-made world-class goalkeeper, such as Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak, but that looks unlikely.

Either way, a decision needs to be made soon. This is an issue United won’t want hanging over the summer when the focus needs to be on incomings rather than outgoings.

A departure for either De Gea or Henderson might require a new No. 2 as well. Tom Heaton’s arrival on a free transfer is imminent, but with Sergio Romero and Lee Grant both set to leave it could mean United are a goalkeeper short.

Solskjaer would have hoped a season of competition between De Gea and Henderson would leave him with a clearer picture, instead it’s only served to complicate matters, as the musical chairs for the final seven games of the season showed.

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