Just as it seemed that the goalkeeper position was finally his, it was cruelly torn away. Now it’s hard for Dean Henderson to fight back.
It’s been some tough months for Henderson, who has gone from being Manchester United’s No. 1 goalkeeper to playing just two appearances this season. What makes it even more frustrating is that there is not much he could have done to change it.
By the time last season ended, Henderson had finally thrown it out of shape David de Gea from his safe place between the posts when he started 10 of the last 12 Premier League matches in the campaign.
Although De Gea surprisingly got a nod in the ensuing Europa League final, his disastrous display in the penalty shootout was the defeat – where he was nowhere near saving any of the 11 Villarreal penalties and then missed his own spot kick . – seemed to have played even more in Henderson’s favor.
Just as the 24-year-old was in his strongest position as a United player – after being told that he would be the first choice goalkeeper in the coming season by Ole Gunnar Solskjær – it was all clarified this summer.
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First, a wrong ankle injury ruled him out of England’s run for the European Championship 2020 final. Then he was hit by Covid-19.
The virus put Henderson low for a month during the pre-season. So he was unfortunately stuck in bed instead of solidifying his place in the side during this summer’s friendly matches, while De Gea was out of the picture and enjoyed extra time off after the European Championships.
So, when Henderson was finally able to shake the virus and was fit enough to return to the bench, it was already the beginning of October and De Gea had regained his title as No. 1. The Spaniard has had a roaring return to form this season, his best in some years and it’s hard to think of where United would be without his crucial saves.
For a player with such high ambitions and obvious talent, Henderson will not play second fiddle for a long time, and United’s goalkeeper situation is as untenable as it was last season.
The Cumbria-born stopper has already expressed his desire to rent out in January to return to play regularly, with Dutch champions Ajax eager to take him until the end of the season.
However, new boss Ralf Rangnick is not prepared to allow him to leave as he wants three first-team goalkeepers in his squad – a decision that makes sense given that only 35-year-old Tom Heaton would remain as a back-up to De Gea if Henderson traveled.
Instead, it looks like Henderson will have to try to fight his way back to the side, and his last chances to do so may be on the horizon.
De Gea was not photographed in Wednesday’s training session ahead of Thursday’s match against Burnley, and although he may well have been there but just was not pictured, or if he was not there, there could be another explanation; it suggests he may be in doubt for the fight, which could open the door for Henderson.
So on January 10, United will be in FA Cup action against Aston Villa and the match could see Rangnick heavily rotate his side, which is likely to get Henderson to come in.
If the goalkeeper gets a chance in one or both of these matches, he must perform at his absolute optimum. Apart from the future FA Cup rounds – if United move on – it is unlikely that Henderson will play any other matches this season unless he does so well that Rangnick has no choice but to play against him or if you Gea is suffering from an injury.
In Henderson’s one performance under Rangnick, the Champions League’s dead rubber against Young Boys, he actually seemed to fit perfectly with the German’s style of play, as his proactivity coming from his line allowed the team to push higher and he interrupted the danger by a few apartments. De Gea, meanwhile, rarely leaves his goal line, which is not ideal when you want to push hard.
So if Henderson can show his qualities to Rangnick and why he should be on the team, he might be able to turn his season around, but he will not have many chances to do so.
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