Dean Henderson‘s productive season is forcing pressure on Jordan Pickford and David De Gea, for the top spot in the England and Manchester United squads respectively. The 23-year-old is setting the Premier League alight while on loan at Sheffield United. He has kept 11 clean sheets this season, tied for the most in the league. His defensive impact has carried the relegation favourites into 8th place, sitting above all expectations. This scout report will explain a tactical analysis of Henderson’s attributes, his role in Chris Wilder’s tactics, and his future at Manchester United.
Henderson moved from Carlisle to the Manchester United academy aged just 14. He featured heavily for the U18’s side before leaving on loan for first-team experience. The former cricket player made his senior club debut in 2016 with Stockport County in the fifth division of English football. He also had loan spells with Grimsby Town, Shrewsbury Town, and Sheffield United. Most notably, he was named in the League One PFA Team of the Year (17/18), Sheffield United Young Player of the Year (18/19), and EFL Championship Golden Glove (18/19).
Last season, Henderson was a mainstay in the Sheffield team, playing every minute of their campaign that ended in promotion into the Premier League. In 46 games, he kept 21 clean sheets and only conceded 41 goals.
This season is no different. Henderson has played every minute of the 19/20 campaign, except for the 2 games against his parent club, Manchester United. In his 29 games, he has conceded just 25 goals. Here I compare him to the rest of the Premier League goalkeepers. We can see that he ranks first for clean sheets and second for goals conceded per 90 minutes, only bettered by Liverpool shot-stopper, Alisson Becker. This is impressive, given the strength of Liverpool’s backline, compared to Sheffield’s backline. If Virgil Van-Dijk was protecting Henderson instead of Phil Jagielka, he might boast even better numbers.
The most sought after attribute in a goalkeeper is not shot-stopping, but reliability. Confidence between the sticks calms a defence. A mistake from Henderson more likely than not ends up in a goal. Because of this, goalkeepers need to maintain positivity when they do inevitably make mistakes. After a disappointing mistake against the Liverpool earlier this season, Henderson improved his concentration and conceded only two goals and kept three clean sheets in the next five matches. That one mistake has been his only mistake leading to goal this season.
Shot stopping and positioning
Henderson has proven his reliability in goal in his early career and his talent has earned valuable points for his teams. In Sheffield’s fight for promotion, his heroics led to seven clean sheets in the final seven games of the season. As a result, Sheffield earned automatic promotion into the Premier League. This year is no different. This analysis displays the save percentages of all Premier League goalkeepers. The young shot-stopper ranks 4th with a save percentage of 76.85%.
His ability to make his body as big as possible is a clear factor in his high save percentage. He uses both his arms and legs to widen his frame against Watford’s Danny Welbeck in this tactical analysis. His tactics of guarding a large portion of the goal end in a brilliant 1v1 save with his right leg.
Not only is Henderson saving over 3/4 of the shots he faces, but he is facing difficult shots as well. The statistic expected goals, or xG, assigns a score to each shot, representing the likelihood of that shot resulting in a goal. For example, if a chance is described as 0.5xG it should be scored 50% of the time. It is the best publically available metric for evaluating shot quality.
In order to analyze this further, I subtracted the xG of each Premier League goalkeeper by the total amount of goals they conceded. This created xG against minus goals conceded, or xG difference. If a player’s xG difference is low then they have exceptional shot-stopping quality or luck. In this analysis, Henderson ranks fourth with -7.43 xG difference. In contrast, a tactical analysis of Alisson, the Liverpool goalkeeper, boasted an 81.03% save percentage, the best in the league. However, his xG difference is only -1.76, ranking him 10th. Alisson’s opponents are forced into poor shot selections, boosting his save percentage. Henderson’s lack of protection highlights his numbers further. Notably, De Gea, the Manchester United goalkeeper, has an xG difference of 0.61, displaying his below-average shot-stopping this season.
69% of the shots that Henderson faces are inside the box. This makes his high save percentage even more impressive. Here we can see every shot that he faced this calendar year. Out of the 34 shots that he has faced outside the box, only 3 have found their way into the back of the net.
When an attacker takes a shot, his teammates crash into the box in hopes of scoring a rebound. After a lobbed cross from Chelsea‘s César Azpilicueta, Tammy Abraham finds space and takes a shot from 6 yards out. Henderson gets low quickly and makes a save. However, he is intentional with the direction of his save. He pushes the ball out, past Christian Pulisic, and ensures that no one has a chance to score a rebound goal. This demonstrates his keen sense of awareness, agility, and arm strength.
In the Premier League, three out of four penalty kicks are scored. Henderson’s quick reflexes make him a penalty specialist. This chart shows all 20 penalties that he has faced since 2015. Surprisingly, he was beaten only 9 times out of the 20 penalties he faced, a 55% save ratio compared to the standard 25%.
The term, sweeper-keeper, is used to define a goalkeeper that is active with the ball and favours coming out of his area to quell fast breaks rather than staying in goal. In this analysis, I compared all Premier League goalkeepers defensive actions outside the penalty area per 90 minutes. Henderson’s 0.48 defensive actions falls directly on the median. He doesn’t stray too far away from his penalty area but needs to be quick off his line to clean up long balls over the top. Sheffield’s high pressing system is prone to quick counter-attacks. This creates a need for a sweeper-keeper and although Henderson is confident with the ball at his feet, he must be faster off his line and improve his anticipation.
Some teams, like Manchester City, prefer to use the goalkeeper as an extra man in defence to build from the back. Chris Wilder uses his goalkeepers to hoof the ball up the field in hope to win a second ball in a dangerous position. Henderson’s distribution statistics support this. This chart compares the pass accuracy vs average pass length for all Premier League goalkeepers. Henderson ranks first in average pass length at 49.5m, but second to last in pass accuracy at 72.03%. We can also see a clear negative relationship between pass accuracy and average pass length.
This demonstrates great kicking strength, but poor accuracy. He kicks the ball into a very contested area in the opposition’s defensive third, inevitably lowering his pass accuracy. This analysis shows the destination of his goal-kicks this season. He tends to aim for a target man on the right side of the pitch and rightly so because he has the most success in this area. He even managed to record an assist this season from a long ball forward. Although he has found success in his long kicks, he still ranks 20th in the league for long pass accuracy. This tactical analysis shows distribution as an area in which Henderson needs to show improvement to stake his claim for Manchester United’s #1 spot.
Can he be Manchester United’s #1?
Henderson’s epic rise into the top flight of English football has turned more than a few eyes his way. If he continues to improve in a similar fashion, he will dethrone Spanish #1, De Gea. Although De Gea has been spectacular for the Red Devils throughout his career, his performances have declined in recent years. This season, as seen in this scout report, Henderson outranks the Spaniard in almost every metric.
Former Manchester United captain, Gary Neville, urged caution over the change in command. “What I don’t buy into is the idea that Dean Henderson can just go in that goalmouth area at the Stretford End and adapt to the demands of being a Man Utd goalkeeper. It takes a special character… There’s no escape at this club and that’s why I’d just be a little bit cautious over Dean Henderson. With respect to Sheffield United, it’s very different making a mistake for Manchester United.”