April 20, 2021

Man Utd

News

Solskjaer’s tough ‘Henderson versus De Gea’ call sparks debate

3 min read

On Monday, the Manchester Evening News reported that David de Gea may be in his final season at Old Trafford.

The Spanish keeper has spent a decade at Manchester United and proven to be one of the Premier League’s finest shot-stoppers throughout that time, winning no less than four United player of the year awards.

However, a dressing room source has told the MEN that the relationship between De Gea and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was becoming a ‘problem’ even before Dean Henderson was selected over De Gea for the Premier League win over Brighton on Sunday.

Reportedly, Solskjaer intended to drop De Gea for Henderson as early as the visit of West Brom on November 21. When De Gea was informed of the intended selection by Solskjaer, he reacted so unhappily that the United boss then restored the Spaniard to the side.

De Gea then missed the next four games to be present for the birth of his daughter and has not played for United since the Chelsea draw at the end of February.

Publicly, Solskjaer continues to downplay the situation, stating after the Brighton win that he has “two great goalkeepers and it’s about now finding games both will (get to) play.” Yet Henderson is increasingly looking like the favoured of the two by the United boss.

In some parts, Solskjaer’s decision to go with Henderson over De Gea has been pretty controversial. This is because the Spaniard still has plenty of admirers at Old Trafford due to his many years of loyal service to the club and his capacity to still perform at a high level.

However, there’s growing evidence that Henderson has been the better performing player of the two and is therefore deserving of his place in the starting 11. One way we can capture this point is by utilising Expected Goal (xG) data.

xG can provide a more accurate summary of whether a team deserved fewer or more goals based on their chances created or conceded by considering aspects such as the assist type, difficulty of the shot, and the location.

With keepers, we can work out how many goals an average one would have been expected to concede based on the quality of chances they faced.



Henderson vs De Gea in all competitions 2020/21
Henderson vs De Gea in all competitions 2020/21

As we can see from the above, across all competitions this season, Henderson has conceded roughly 0.66 goals per 90 which is noticeably lower than his xG average of 0.83 per 90.

De Gea on the other hand has conceded 1.21 goals per 90 which is not only a higher average but also crucially more than his xG per 90 of 1.13.

What this means in basic terms is that Henderson has conceded fewer goals than would be expected whilst De Gea has conceded more.

United will obviously have their own state-of-the-art analysis tools in place, therefore Solskjaer will not only know who is performing better in terms of metrics like the above, but he’ll also have the benefit of watching and working with both players every day, adding a further level of clarity to his choice.

It can be argued then that his perceived decision to side with Henderson is a fair one and the best for Man United.

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