With four points from their opening two games back and a cohesive and free-flowing style to their play since the restart, things are finally starting to look a little brighter for Manchester United.
Thursday night can’t have been nice for them. Liverpool’s revelry will have stung, given how long it’s been since they’ve tasted the Premier League title.
Not quite thirty years, but still longer than any United fan will have expected upon Ferguson’s departure.
There have been false dawns in the past, but under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, things are looking decidedly brighter, with Bruno Fernandes a breath of fresh air, Anthony Martial fit and firing and Paul Pogba back to something near his best.
There will, however, be a difficult decision to be made by the United boss in a position that just a few short years ago was arguably their most watertight.
Come the first game of next season, will it be David De Gea or Dean Henderson between the sticks?
If we first start with De Gea, it’s important to remember just how crucial he has been to the club over the last decade or so.
After a tricky first couple of seasons De Gea grew into the clear first choice at Old Trafford and one of the finest keepers in the division, winning four United Player of the Year awards in six seasons, making five appearances in the PFA Team of the Year and clinching the Premier Golden Gloves in the 2017/2018 season.
Without De Gea, some discouraging seasons could have been disasters.
Over the last two campaigns though, De Gea’s form has slipped and errors have crept into his game making many question his role at the club.
In the 2018/2019 season, De Gea managed just seven league clean sheets, the first time he had ever found himself in single figures and a huge contrast from the season before that, which saw him rack up 18 clean sheets.
At times De Gea hasn’t been helped by an unsteady defence around him, however, he made four individual errors which lead to goals last season – with only Bernd Leno and Asmir Begovic managing more (5).
This season so far has been a slight improvement, with nine clean sheets, however, he has again made three errors leading to goals, and was now so infamously called out by Roy Keane for his poor handling at Tottenham.
De Gea’s past achievements should not be dismissed, but all signs indicate that it’s time for a change between the sticks.
If we now look to Dean Henderson, who is currently on loan from Manchester United at Sheffield United, his statistics this season paint a more promising picture.
In a promoted side, Henderson has managed to keep 11 clean sheets, in a defence that has only conceded 31 goals so far this season (it’s also important to remember that they conceded six goals against Manchester United, two games Henderson missed).
Crucially he has also only made one error leading to a goal this season, meaning as a whole, the 23-year-old has taken brilliantly to life in the Premier League.
So now let’s compare them directly.
If we look through Premier League.com’s wide variety of goalkeeping related stats from clean sheets to save success percentage, Henderson has the edge over De Gea in virtually every category.
He’s made more saves, kept more clean sheets, made more punches, he’s even saved more penalties than the Spaniard he will soon be attempting to usurp.
In terms of the ‘sweeper keeper’ style of play that is so fawned over in today’s game, Henderson appears to take the edge too when it comes to clearances as well as aerial battles won.
One interesting stat, however, that De Gea does have the edge over Henderson is with the ball at his feet. Henderson has had more touches and made considerably more passes than the United number one however his pass completion % is relatively low at 36.5% compared to De Gea’s 72.5%.
Both sides do play a different style but given how fluid the Blades football can often be, that low percentage from Henderson is a surprise.
De Gea has never been considered exceptional with the ball at his feet, but given how effective both Alisson and Ederson have become for their respective clubs as ball-playing goalkeepers, could that be a knock against Henderson?
It’s possible but unlikely.
The stats suggest that Henderson has grown to have an edge over De Gea when it comes to who will be the club’s future number one, but the decision for Solskjaer will be far from easy.
The Spaniard has been a brilliant servant to the club and has experience in abundance over Henderson, who, at 23, is young for a goalkeeper and has only played one season in the top flight.
Tough choices will have to be made next season though and if Solskjaer wants to take the club forward with the youthful core of the likes of Maguire, Fernandes and Rashford, then freshening up the number one shirt may be a necessary evil.
De Gea may have given everything to the club, but having a ready-made successor to one of your finest players is a luxury few clubs can afford.
Next season Dean Henderson should be Manchester United’s number one.