With Dean Henderson's loan at Sheffield United due to end this summer, could he replace David de Gea as Manchester United's new number one?
Dean Henderson has been crucial to Sheffield United's incredible showing in the Premier League this season as Chris Wilder's team sit seventh with nine rounds of fixtures left - two points behind fifth-placed Manchester United and with a game in hand.
As discussions continue between Premier League clubs to extend contracts and loan deals that are due to expire on June 30, should the season run beyond that date, Manchester United could end up sanctioning a costly loan extension.
Imagine the uproar if the final day of the campaign sees an inspired Henderson help bring Champions League football to Bramall Lane, and denies his parent club in the process.
Stranger things have happened, especially given that the Blades' mean defensive record, and phenomenal goalkeeper, have been the backbone of their success.
The best goalkeeper in the league?
A stand-out statistic which emphasises both just how important Dean Henderson is to Sheffield United, and just how good his performances have been, is the difference between the Blades' expected goals against and actual goals conceded.
It reflects how thankful a team should be for their keeper's saves and defenders' last-ditch blocks - primarily though, this is a goalkeeping stat.
Not only do Sheffield United top the Premier League chart, but no other top-10 side comes close to them.
Difference between expected goals against total and actual goals conceded:
- Sheffield United: 11.9
- Crystal Palace: 11.8
- Newcastle: 11.3
- Leicester: 9.4
- Liverpool: 7.7
Sheffield United's position at the top is of course largely down to the fact they have conceded just 25 league goals this season, with only runaway leaders Liverpool conceding fewer.
What about Manchester United? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side come in 12th registering a paltry 0.56 despite letting only five more goals in than the Blades.
Comparison with de Gea
Already, David de Gea is on the back foot here after our first statistical comparison.
What that one number highlights is a staggering differential between the impact Henderson, the out-on-loan academy graduate who is yet to make his Manchester United debut, and de Gea, the world's best paid goalkeeper who has made almost 400 appearances for the club, have had on their respective teams this season.
And it doesn't get any prettier for the Spaniard when you delve more deeply.
2019/20: Dean Henderson v David de Gea
- Games played: 27 | 29
- Clean sheets: 10 | 8
- Goals conceded: 22 | 30
- Shots saved: 70 | 76
- Save percentage: 75.5% | 71.7%
Henderson comes out on top time and again.
And you're clutching at straws if you point towards de Gea's marginally higher number of shots saved - he's played two more matches and his save percentage is actually lower.
In defence of de Gea
David de Gea is a brilliant goalkeeper, and has been for a number of years, so it's unfair to compare one season of stats and declare the other keeper as better. Henderson is simply having a better season for his loan club, than de Gea is back at his parent club - no more than that.
And in the modern day there is one part of the job that is becoming increasingly vital: distribution.
2019/20: Dean Henderson v David de Gea
- Total passes: 694 | 595
- Accurate long balls: 191 | 70
- Inaccurate long balls: 448 | 167
- Accurate short passes: 54 | 354
- Inaccurate short passes: 1 | 4
It probably comes as no surprise that the numbers support the view that de Gea is the better distributor.
But that does need to be tempered with the understanding that Dean Henderson's role at Sheffield United doesn't mirror de Gea's at Manchester United, hence the stark difference in long and short passes between the pair.
And what it certainly doesn't mean is that the 23-year-old couldn't adjust his game if he was given the gloves at Old Trafford.
But as things stand, the argument that de Gea is a better fit for 'the Manchester United way' is a fair one.
England's number one?
Although Dean Henderson has been included in some of Gareth Southgate's recent squads, it's staggering that a keeper whose stats show how phenomenal he's been still hasn't won a senior England cap.
But that is surely an inevitability - he is 1/6 to make the final 23 for Euro 2021.
Anyway, let's leave that debate for another day.
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