If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer thought he could leave behind the issue surrounding his two goalkeepers when Manchester United flew to Spain for Thursday night’s Europa League quarter-final against Granada, he was mistaken.
If it ends with an appearance in the Europa League final in Gdansk on May 26 then Solskjaer will have the mother of all selection puzzles.
Manchester United have a tough choice picking David de Gea (left) or Dean Henderson (right)
Red Devils boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has insisted the competition between the two is healthy
Healthy competition was how the United manager described it on Wednesday but it already threatens to have a terminal effect on De Gea’s 10-year career at Old Trafford this summer.
Henderson appears to be in pole position having played the last seven games, although Solskjaer has typically used his No 2 goalkeeper in the Europa League.
Whoever gets the nod in the Nuevo Estadio de Los Carmenes on Thursday evening, the issue is showing no sign of going away any time soon.
Having previously been reluctant to discuss it in any depth, Solskjaer admitted De Gea was unhappy over losing his place and challenged the Spain goalkeeper to fight to win it back.
‘If it’s Dean or David, I’m very comfortable with both of them to play and I’m very happy that neither of them is happy to not play,’ said the United boss.
The 24-year-old Henderson has played the last seven successive matches between the sticks
‘It’s a healthy competition. Both of them are important, all of them want to play. It’s the same for Lee Grant and Nathan Bishop and Sergio Romero, they want to play and that’s a competition I like.
‘David has been a top, top keeper and he still is. He’s working to be ready when he plays. David has had 10 fantastic years at Man United and he’s had challengers.
‘Of course they want to play. Sergio probably played less games than he deserved. Dean has come in and given it his all because everyone wants that place in the team. David does as well.’
Solskjaer recalled competition for places he experienced as a player at United as he set out the challenge facing De Gea.
‘When you are a part of Man United, there are always going to be players coming in who don’t just come to fill the bench — everyone has ambition to take your shirt,’ he added.
‘I was there myself as a striker. We signed Ruud van Nistelrooy, Diego Forlan, Louis Saha. Loads of top strikers — Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham.
Henderson made an error vs AC Milan in the Europa League round of 16 first leg on March 11
‘The aim for me then is to prove to the manager, “I don’t mind you signing these but I’m still important for you and I’m still going to give everything I can to play”. Right back, left back, centre forward, keeper, it’s the same.’
Ahead of the first leg, Solskjaer has sought insight from his old club Molde who lost to Granada in the last round. The Andalusian club, playing in Europe for the first time this season after winning promotion to La Liga in 2019, have also knocked out Napoli.
‘It’s a team full of experience, unbelievable character and spirit,’ said Solskjaer.
Even so, Granada coach Diego Martinez accepts that playing the competition favourites will be a step up for his players.
‘If we think too much about everything United have going for them, we wouldn’t even show up as we are facing a giant,’ said Martinez.
‘So far, doing that has motivated us to push ourselves to the fullest. The fact that we are talking here today is because this team have made the very improbable possible.’