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The Dangers of Dropping De Gea for Henderson Right Now

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Does a few mistakes really equal complete omission?

David De Gea was heavily criticised for his poor performance against Everton after playing a big part in both Abdoulaye Doucoure and Dominic Calvert Lewin's goals in the 3-3 draw. Despite this, De Gea has not had a poor season, but it has resulted in question marks over the Spanish keeper’s place in the team in the aftermath, which is far from the first time this has happened.

But ultimately, with goalkeepers, scrutiny is always amplified by any mistake, unlike any other position and proven no more by Allison Becker's performance in Liverpool's pivotal game with Manchester City a day later. In a nutshell, keepers must be faultless, because a striker can make 10 errors in a game, but convert one chance and his job is done, if they keep a clean sheet. However, if a keeper makes 10 errors, it’s 10-0 - hardly fair, but justifiable in its own right.

Like De Gea, Alisson has been one of the best performing goalkeepers in the country over recent seasons but put in a well-under par performance on Sunday, playing a massive role in both Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling's goals in particular. Not only does this highlight that any goalkeeper can fall victim to an off day, but it also supports the notion that a goalkeeper should be backed through rough patches of form, especially when they’ve had the unrivalled impact that De Gea has had at United in the past decade.

Is Henderson really ready for such a drastic jump?

A counterargument for United sticking with their accomplished international goalkeeper is their younger understudy, Dean Henderson. Unlike Liverpool, it is not an easy decision to make with their goalkeeper week in week out as both Adrian and Caoimhin Kelleher provide little to no competition to their world-class number one.

But with Henderson, United have got not only a long-term successor to De Gea, but also a player who has genuine proven quality. The 23-year-old was capped for his country for the first time back in October after impressive form over a two-year loan with Sheffield United, where he established himself as one of the best in the country and arguably England’s preferred choice. And now, since returning to Old Trafford, the Englishman has provided fresh competition for De Gea and it does seem like a matter of when rather and if he takes the spot between the sticks.

Henderson, who has been at the club since he was 14, has undoubtedly a big future at Old Trafford, regardless of the form the Spaniard may hit in the future, given how Henderson is nearly seven years younger than him. Some sections of the United faithful have called for more first-team opportunities for Henderson, as he has made just 10 appearances for the Red Devils across four different competitions. But, it begs the question as to whether the United academy graduate is currently a better option than De Gea, just because the United number one is underperforming on his usual incredible standard? It's both insulting to De Gea and an overestimate of the capabilities of a young keeper who has yet to play more than 10 games for one of the world's biggest clubs.

Based on Henderson's performances for Sheffield United last season, the goalkeeper's ability is undeniable, and the stats are there to prove it. He made 36 Premier League appearances, conceding just 33 goals and keeping 13 clean sheets, which is more than impressive for a newly-promoted side, and it was rightfully noticed by both Gareth Southgate and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Englishman also picked up the Young Player of the Year award at Bramall Lane, and his importance to the Blades has since been amplified by their struggles with Aaron Ramsdale’s this season and with them rooted to the bottom of the league.

It's a dangerous call

If you put Henderson in as the number one, United effectively end the career of De Gea at Old Trafford, because they are not going to keep him on the bench with his wage, so Solskjaer has to be very careful about how he plays this. Ultimately, the United staff have to ask themselves this: has Henderson proved himself enough to the extent of which if his admission will throw one of their greatest ever out the door? Is it too much of a risk? Potentially.

It was easy to see how Henderson's quality was vital to Chris Wilder's team. But with respect to Sheffield United, the step up from consistently performing at Bramall Lane to Old Trafford is gargantuan and one that is near impossible to predict, as even De Gea himself had a shocking start to life at United after a fabulous season with Atletico Madrid.

Henderson clearly possesses the ability to rival De Gea for the number one jersey at United, but perhaps it’s this competition that will keep the two of them on top of their game in the long run. But halfway through United's best season post-Sir Alex Ferguson, it would be a monumental decision to drop an international goalkeeper with 10 years of experience at Old Trafford and therefore, effectively kick out arguably the best goalkeeper in football over the past decade, bar Manuel Neuer.

Not only would it heavily affect the confidence of De Gea, but considerations also have to be made for Henderson. For a young goalkeeper, the scrutiny that is playing at the Theatre of Dreams can have monumental effects on his confidence and progression into a top keeper, and at the same time, keeping him out for too long might just be what determines his career.

Maybe, just maybe, it is not only for the best for Solskjaer to integrate Henderson into the first team slowly, but to stick by the man that has saved them countless times over the years in De Gea. Because, at 30 years old, he might not be finished just yet and at 23 for Henderson, perhaps it's a dangerous one to pull him out so quickly as it ultimately calls time on his career.

By Harry Charlwood