April 21, 2021

Man Utd

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Manchester United’s problems have changed because of Bailly and Henderson

4 min read

In the end, it hardly mattered that Patrick van Aanholt was a good yard offside.

Thanks to another late flag (or would it even have gone up at all?) Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson was none the wiser. All he knew was he had to spread himself and clinch his team a point, on a night where their 10 outfielders hardly deserved one.

It was the kind of save Sheffield United fans saw umpteen times last season, the ones that turned the Blades from relegation candidates — as they are now, without Henderson — into a mid-table team.

From a United perspective, it was also encouraging that Henderson had remained hyper-alert on a night where he had little to do, save for peering through the mist and wondering if his teammates would ever shape up.

There were some eyebrows raised at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team selection for the game against Crystal Palace, much of the debate surrounding the decisions to recall Henderson and Eric Bailly to the defensive triangle, alongside the ever-present Harry Maguire.

Even Gary Neville looked surprised on his Instagram live pre-match when Sky Sports colleague Martin Tyler informed him of the team news, on the Selhurst Park gantry.

Neville had earlier declared that “a big decision” is coming over Henderson and David de Gea while doing a Twitter Q&A session, and expanded on that when he went on air before kick off.

“I always thought when I played for United that the number one spot would probably be the most scrutinised position in English football and Dean Henderson’s chances are coming more and more,” said the former right-back.

“You’d think in the next few months that the day of reckoning will come when Solskjaer will decide whether he is the Manchester United number one of the future.”

It should be stressed that De Gea’s absence was due to personal reasons, while Victor Lindelof — the man Bailly replaced — has endured back issues this season, which affect his ability to play twice in a week.

But with so few positives to take from a third successive goalless draw, and another limp performance in attack, there are at least some to take at the back.

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Manchester United were held to a 0-0 draw by Crystal Palace on Wednesday night.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players were frustrated for the third goalless game in succession, dropping more points to allow Man City to streak away at the Premier League’s summit, on a poor day for the forwards.

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Let’s not forget it wasn’t long ago that United’s defence was being mercilessly berated — even more recently than their opening three games of the league season (one of them a 3-1 defeat by Palace) that saw them concede nine goals. Rewind to early February and United’s 3-3 draw with Everton was seen as evidential proof that they needed a new centre-back. The MEN understands that position remains a priority, amid an ongoing admiration for Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane.

The problem is Bailly cannot sustain long periods in the side without injury. When he does, he tends to improve the back four and makes Maguire look more comfortable, thanks to the Ivorian’s pace.

Henderson, meanwhile, has kept 10 clean sheets in 14 appearances for United this season. De Gea has recovered well from his occasional mistakes this season; to his credit they have been fewer and further between, but Henderson has hardly erred when called upon.

The opposite side to the argument is to note that Lindelof and De Gea were both involved in the clean sheets United kept against Chelsea, Southampton and Arsenal in recent weeks. But then Bailly and Henderson have hardly been breached either.

They are at least providing strength in depth and competition, which is clearly driving improved displays from United at the back.

Small mercies, yes, and United fans will be desperate to see an improvement in attack, but this at least is a United problem (or two) being solved through this sticky patch.

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