Henderson’s Iron Palm breathes new life into Solskjaer’s biggest dilemma

As Hakan Calhanoglu’s looping cross etched the sky over Milan, Luke Shaw struggled desperately with Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the back post, while Dean Henderson took a few deep breaths and prepared.

The first leg of this latest Europa League clash ended in bitter disappointment for Manchester United and Henderson himself.

Amad Diallo gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side at Old Trafford the advantage with a brilliant header, only for Simon Kjaer to reverse the tie-breaking momentum with a last-minute header, that the 24-hour keeper years should have saved. .

There were many calls at the end of last season for Henderson to become United’s new number one.

The opportunity to have “one of their own” in the goal while potentially bringing in a huge amount of money for David De Gea was very appealing and you can see why.

But for much of this season, Solskjaer has continued to favor the experienced Spaniard, now in his tenth year at Old Trafford.

In all competitions in 2020-21 so far, De Gea has made 29 starts, while Henderson has made 18. A much more even distribution of games than among most goalkeepers, but it is clear that ‘a first choice remains.

Solskjaer knows that a big decision awaits him this summer. Henderson reportedly made no secret of his desire to be number one at Old Trafford, informing club members that he had ‘no intention’ of playing a supporting role again next season. Something will have to give.

As a 39-year-old Swede waited for a cross to meet his head Thursday night, ready to call off Paul Pogba’s opener, a lot was at stake. With De Gea on maternity leave, Henderson knew there was a limit long for the latter comes out as United’s number one. Another mistake like in the first leg and Solskjaer’s dilemma suddenly has a much simpler answer.

De Gea was not perfect in his time in the Northwest. In fact, statistics this season show he (one every 69 minutes) concedes much more frequently than Henderson (one every 160 minutes), and the pair each have 10 clean sheets to their name, although Henderson play 11 fewer games.

But De Gea built a stronger reputation between the sticks during his decade at Old Trafford, playing a pivotal role in winning four major trophies. More than United’s European status was at stake on Thursday night.

Ibrahimovic against Shaw was never a fair fight and the ponytail striker’s slick head, glittering under the lights of San Siro, met the ball cleanly.

Dramatically, the header trajectory seemed to mimic that of Kjaer a week earlier, although this time around, extra rhythm was added to it. A perfect trial of redemption.

If a small part of Solskjaer hoped Henderson would ease his summer embarrassment, he was out of luck.

Springing out of his tiptoes, an orange arm aimed at the ball and an iron palm gutted any chance the Swede would score against his former team-mates, securing United’s progress to the quarter-finals at the same time.

Hopes of seeing Solskjaer’s summer decision come easy was also lost at that point.

By Louie Chandler

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