Manchester United have a transfer issue that could still hurt them this season
David de Gea and Dean Henderson spent last season battling to be Man Utd No. 1 and that could continue this season.
With less than a month to go until the start of the new season we're no closer to knowing who will be Manchester United's first-choice goalkeeper this season.
The first pre-season friendly of the summer was the chance of third and fourth-choice goalkeepers Tom Heaton and Lee Grant to get a run out and with neither Dean Henderson nor David de Gea in the training squad at Pennyhill Park this week, that is likely to remain the case at Queens Park Rangers this weekend.
As the curtain came down on last season Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did admit that the goalkeeping situation at Old Trafford needed a "solution for next year, definitely". Solskjaer had spent the season being fairly evasive over De Gea and Henderson and his final pre-match press conference of the Premier League season was the first time he'd publicly accepted the situation was unsustainable.
But as things stand De Gea and Henderson remain at the club. While there's obviously time for that to change, there's been little suggestion it's likely to see and at the moment the smart money is on both goalkeepers staying at United this season.
While the battle for the gloves last season could be considered a one-off, with academy graduate Henderson given the chance to either prise that role away from De Gea or bring out a return to the Spaniard's best form, it doesn't look like a situation conducive to a long-term rivalry.
As Solskjaer said in that press conference, having two No. 1 goalkeepers is rarely a recipe for harmony.
"It’s been a strange season in that respect with regards to goalkeeping. At United most of the time we’ve had a No. 1 who has been playing most of the games," he said.
"I’m really pleased with the two of them, it’s difficult to have that kind of rotation, you don’t rotate that much normally, I’ll have to find a solution for next year definitely."
The staggered return to pre-season isn't making a decision easy. At most Henderson and De Gea will have the friendlies against Brentford, Preston and Everton to impress. But is anything they do in three low-key pre-season games really going to swing the vote in their favour?
De Gea played 36 times for United last season, Henderson 26. That should be enough of an audition for Solskjaer to have settled on his first-choice goalkeeper. Henderson is certainly expecting to get the gloves when the real business begins against Leeds United on August 14.
The risk in keeping both on the books is the uncertainty it will create. If Henderson begins the season as No. 1, with a four-time player of the year, 45-cap Spain international goalkeeper on around £375,000-a-week on the bench it's only going to increase the pressure. Every time Henderson drops a corner, or sends a kick out of play, every minor, inconsequential error will become a story. Any significant error will dominant the agenda with an understudy of De Gea's calibre and history waiting in the wings.
The reverse will also be true, perhaps to a lesser extent. Henderson has proved himself a Premier League-ready goalkeeper and his ambition is relentless. He won't want to accept spending an entire season sitting on the bench. If De Gea doesn't hit his best form then the clamour for Henderson will grow.
If Solskjaer was fed up being asked about his goalkeepers last season, then he's going to be tearing his hair out in the year ahead if the battle between De Gea and Henderson continues into a second act.
The biggest issue may be that Solskjaer isn't entirely convinced by either. There isn't a perfect solution. De Gea's best days look to be behind him and while he remains a world-class shot-stopper his communication and distribution aren't strong suits, yet they're vital elements in the modern game. Henderson is better in both departments but remains a work in progress.
Before the season opener against Leeds Solskjaer will have to nail his colours to the mast. United can't have a situation again where they play 60 games and split them almost equally between two goalkeepers. A shared No. 1 rarely ends well for any club.
The transfer window will be open for two weeks after the season begins, so the disaffected goalkeeper could seek a move, although by now most major clubs have their goalkeeping department sorted. Paris St-Germain was probably De Gea's most likely exit route, but the signing of Gianluigi Donarumma has left them very well covered in that position. If Henderson leaves he wants to go somewhere to be first-choice, but those options in mid-August will be limited.
If United do wave goodbye to either then Heaton showed at Derby on Sunday he can probably be a reliable No. 2 still. He might be 35 but he was in an England squad less than two years ago. His ambitions might be to be starting games, but Henderson would feel less pressure with the former Burnley and Aston Villa goalkeeper as his deputy than he would if the cameras were cutting to De Gea every time he erred in a game.
Should the window shut with De Gea and Henderson both still at United then Solskjaer will have to manage that situation carefully. Someone will be disappointed, but the story could run and run throughout the season.