De Gea v Henderson: Another problem for United fire-fighter Solskjaer to deal with

As soon as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer puts out one fire, a faint yet distinctive smell of smoke comes wafting in from another room.

But the question remains.

Although Solskjaer has backed David De Gea at every opportunity since taking over at the club, the Spaniard’s post World Cup dip in form is becoming harder to ignore.

It was certainly inescapable during the side’s 3-1 defeat against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final.

While De Gea’s star is seemingly on the wane, Dean Henderson’s stock has risen dramatically this season.

The 23-year-old has excelled at Sheffield United keeping 13 clean sheets in his debut Premier League season, and a first England cap can only be round the corner.

He’s also adamant that he wants to play for his parent club whose academy he joined at 14.

This leaves Solskjaer with a familiar choice to make; an experienced goalkeeper versus a confident youngster who wants to take the spot for himself.

Cast your mind back to Manchester City at the start of the 2010/11 season.

Roberto Mancini had a choice between the tried and tested Shay Given, or a Joe Hart fresh from an impressive loan spell at Birmingham City – even if the Midlands club declined to retire his number 25 shirt.

“Given was really good when he came in during the January transfer window in 2009,” says Jack Pitt-Brooke of The Athletic.

“He was first choice for about 18 months. The issue was Joe Hart had an amazing season on loan with Birmingham City in 09/10, and there was quite a lot of momentum behind him which really swung it.

On the eve of City’s first game of the 10/11 Premier League season against Tottenham, it was still unclear who would be starting in goal for Mancini’s side.

The Italian opted for Hart and never looked back.

“It was a really big story at the time because Given had been a first choice keeper in the Premier League for about 15 years and was one of the best keeper’s in the division.

“To replace him with a 23-year-old with a handful of Premier League experience behind him was a really big decision for Mancini, particularly given that he was under short term pressure to get results and win things and get top four.

“Under those circumstances, managers tend to go for more experienced players so for Mancini to go for hart over given was quite surprising. But it was completely vindicated because from that moment on Hart was fantastic for City.”

More recently, Solskjaer’s predecessor Jose Mourinho faced the same dilemma.

In 2014/15, the Portuguese had to choose between club legend and Champions League final man of the match Petr Cech, or Thibaut Courtois who won the league and the golden glove with Atletico Madrid. Once again, the younger keeper won the manager’s trust as Chelsea went on to win the title.

Although De Gea has arguably been the best player in the post-Ferguson United side – five player of the year awards in seven seasons certainly suggests so – doubts about his future have crept in.

Jack continued: “There’ll be a lot of public clamour for Henderson given that he’s English and we’re a year away from the Euros.

“People will want to see Henderson so it’s going to be a really big test for Solskjaer. He’s talked about young players a lot and wanting to trust them and he’s been good to his word – Greenwood has been fantastic this season. But dropping De Gea for Henderson at the start of next season will be the biggest call of Solskjaer’s tenure so far – and a huge risk as well.

“If you don’t pick De Gea you might as well sell him,” Jack continued.

“It doesn’t really make sense to have a really highly paid keeper as your number two. Hypothetically Solskjaer might think that we’ve got this guy on big money we might as well pick him.

There’s also the question of whether Henderson is even ready for the Old Trafford hotseat.

The United in Yorkshire and the United in Manchester are two different beasts.

“Being a goalkeeper for a top club is different than being a goalkeeper for a lesser club,” Jack added.

“There’s plenty of examples of really good keepers who haven’t been able to cut it at a top club; Fabianski didn’t work out at Arsenal but has been fantastic for West Ham, Ben Foster’s had a great career but it didn’t work out at United, Tim Howard didn’t really work out at united. Whether Henderson is one of those I don’t know.”

The only person who needs to know is Solskjaer.

With the side finally heading in the right direction, this is a decision he cannot afford to get wrong.

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