Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a number of big decisions to make this summer.
The club’s ongoing journey in the UEFA Europa League has been somewhat overshadowed by a continued transfer saga involving Jadon Sancho and Borussia Dortmund.
Both clubs have been concrete in their varying valuations of the 20-year-old which has increased the level of attention to new heights.
Solskjaer and the rest of Manchester United’s hierarchy will be far from pleased at how the transfer window has already dominated the headlines as they look to win European silverware this month.
Nevertheless, the opening of the window in late July indicates that they may need to have an eye on transfer activity no matter how far United go in Europe.
Sancho remains the top priority but there are several running narratives within the squad that need addressing and none more so than goalkeeper Dean Henderson.
The 23-year-old enjoyed another impressive loan spell at Sheffield United last season and such performances in the Premier League have led to suggestions that he should be considered as United’s number one.
Some poor showings from David de Gea strengthened that claim to some degree despite Solskjaer sticking by the Spain international.
In the case of Henderson, he presents Solskjaer with a rather intriguing decision to make this summer. He has made it quite clear that he wants to be United’s first-choice goalkeeper but doing that could prove difficult given how much the United boss has praised De Gea, even after mistakes.
Choosing to opt for Henderson in place of De Gea would be a huge call for Solskjaer to make. It is believed that the United manager ranks the Spanish shot-stopper as one of the best goalkeepers in the world which leaves Henderson in a precarious position.
He is left with a number of options: stay at United to fight for his place, force a permanent move away or have another loan spell to prove himself in the top flight again.
If he is to stay at Old Trafford for the coming season, Henderson will have to change his approach to distributing possession.
Below, we see the passing networks of Henderson (left) and De Gea (right) throughout the 2019/20 Premier League season.
Henderson (left) passed far more directly than de Gea (right) last season (Image: Twenty3)
The first thing likely to stand out from the above graphic is how Henderson’s passing tends to go far more direct in terms of distance than De Gea. He often looks to make passes to the centre forward compared to De Gea who frequently offloads to one of his defenders.
That type of long-range passing from Henderson is reflected by his passing numbers last season. He registered 5.39 attempted passes to the final third per 90 minutes last season which ranks as the top for all goalkeepers in the Premier League and third out of all shot-stoppers from Europe’s top five leagues.
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What that tells us about the 23-year-old’s distribution last season is that he was far more used to kicking the ball long rather than playing short passes like De Gea. While that is perhaps most indicative of Sheffield United’s style of play, it stands to reason that Henderson would need to change that role if he were to become United’s number one.
There is no doubting that Henderson has evolved into a world class shot-stopper - the last 12 months has proved that. But what will remain a question mark for Solskjaer is whether he has the ability to become a more ball-playing goalkeeper like De Gea.
Playing out from the back and building attacks is a prerequisite for modern goalkeepers and continuing his development further may need to be shown before laying down a claim for first-choice at Old Trafford.
All statistics via Wyscout