Dean Henderson deserves a continued run as Manchester United number one

Mitchell Wilks
Mar 8, 2021, 11:00 AM GMT
Henderson is getting comfy as United's number one
Henderson is getting comfy as United's number one | Visionhaus/Getty Images

There were plenty of positives for Manchester United to take out of their convincing 2-0 victory against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, none more important than the clean sheet that was defended right up to the final whistle.

The shutout was the latest in an impressive season for Dean Henderson, who is now on a run of five games without conceding for United, and has managed 11 clean sheets in the 15 appearances he's made.

And while the criticism has been that Henderson has largely picked those up in United's more favourable fixtures, the tide has changed of late - evidenced by his presence and overall ability in goal being key to keeping City out during the derby.

His immediate strengths have been on show since assuming the number one role in the wake of David de Gea's absence. United are now playing with a more commanding keeper, who dominates his box and eases the pressure on his defenders tremendously - which is vital in instilling confidence in those in front of him.

Along with the command of his area is consistent distribution, unrivalled confidence in possession of the ball, and an obvious ability to pull off saves from short and long range. Are these attributes things that De Gea doesn't possess? No - the Spaniard has been a fine shot stopper for United.

His confidence and command of his colleagues, however, as well as his distribution, have never been strong elements of his game. Henderson is solving that.

The issue of United's first choice goalkeeper has been present all season, but the 23-year-old is currently relishing the 'now or never' aspect to the challenge that faces him. Mentality is everything as a top goalkeeper. Confidence is often the be all and end all of a game and is incredibly difficult to recover when lost, but Henderson is someone who is rarely shy of it.

The benefit of no fans in stadiums - barring the awkward, piped in crowd noise and hearing all of Martin Tyler's commentary gaffes - has been being able to hear all the on-pitch fuss. Henderson is often heard loud and clear, constantly communicating with his outfield colleagues. It's not just barking out orders for his defenders, either, it is instilling words of courage into those ahead of him which rubs off on everyone.

Is he breaking down global barriers? No. Is he a 16-time WWE world champion? Unfortunately not. But what he is doing is nailing down the fundamentals and building up his own confidence with a number of small positives in every appearance he makes.

Henderson soaks up every positive he can from the glimpses of action he is tasked with - a difficult feat as a number two. Now, stepping into the number one role, there are no doubts over his ability to switch on when called upon. He proved his worth with a fine, close-range stop in the dying embers against Crystal Palace and his performance against City had a bit of everything. From good distribution and getting the basics right, to having to go full stretch to deny Oleskandr Zinchenko in City's spell of first half dominance.

It's important to not get carried away of course, and remember that Henderson still has it all to prove. He faces a monstrous two-leg clash with Milan in the Europa League last 16 which could be crucial to United winning European silverware this season, and is likely to enjoy a string of appearances in the league where the Red Devils must avoid being dragged into a muddy top four fight.

There is enough time for him now to stake his claim and prove to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that he should actually keep his place in the side beyond De Gea's return. United cannot afford another season with the pair battling it out and a decision must be made in summer.

De Gea has had his chances; it's time for Henderson to be given his.