Henderson evoked the spirit of Schmeichel
It had been a little frustrating looking at some stats regarding Manchester United keeper Dean Henderson, relating to his time with Sheffield United.
Dean's distribution has long been one of his assets and he is able to launch long throws like the one that set up Luke Shaw's killer second goal in the Manchester derby.
Yet much analysis of his work at Bramall Lane over two hugely successful loan spells seemed to suggest it was an area where he was inferior to many of his peers. This was probably infuriating for anybody who had seen him develop in our youth ranks.
The simple fact is Chris Wilder's side did not really play out from the back, like a lot of sides. Hence, Dean would be actively encouraged to launch long balls forward and these, inevitably, are far less likely to be successful than short, safer passes. It is no surprise that current Blades no.1 Aaron Ramsdale's pass percentage-rate is also relatively low.
I was at Kenilworth Road for Dean's senior United debut back in September and one of his early passes out to the right was hit with the accuracy and fade any playmaker would have been proud of, landing at his intended target close to the touchline in front of me. I hoped any doubts over his passing would rightly be dismissed.
You see the thing is the confident keeper also has always had another string to his bow. He is excellent at throwing the ball out and this was evident as early as September 2015. I was watching the Under-19s play Wolfsburg in the UEFA Youth League at Leigh Sports Village when Henderson launched a quick throw out to captain Marcus Rashford, who streaked into the opposition box, won a penalty and converted it himself.
Shortly afterwards, I got to sit down with Deano at the Aon Training Complex and asked him about this tactic and whether he was aware just how good our legendary keeper Peter Schmeichel had been at hurling balls out to the likes of Ryan Giggs, Lee Sharpe and Andrei Kanchelskis during the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
“I've seen a lot of clips of Peter Schmeichel on YouTube and it's a really good skill to have in your locker,” he told me.
“It can be as effective as a big, long kick as it's sharp. You get rid of it and you're on the break, especially with someone like Marcus, with his pace to get on the end of it. It makes the job much easier but I'll keep working at it.”
In the Player Focus section of Inside United, the official magazine, in 2015, we wrote:
“An excellent keeper who is working on all aspects of his game, he is looking commanding when dealing with crosses and often manages to impose a vocal influence on his defenders. Particularly adept at launching attacks with long throws.”
It is clearly something the England international has continued to work at. By changing the play so dramatically, five minutes into the second half at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, it caught City out. The throw was so accurate, Shaw could chest it forward and power into space, eventually accepting a return pass from the aforementioned Rashford and burying a low finish beyond Blues keeper Ederson.
The goal, of course, gave United a valuable cushion and was a key moment of the contest, enabling the Reds to go on to secure a superb 2-0 success.
Henderson went on to keep a clean sheet, his ninth of the season with the Reds - plus he enjoyed a shut-out on his England debut in the second half of the 3-0 win over Republic of Ireland last November. He became the first keeper since Rui Patricio in early October 2019 to repel City at the Etihad in the Premier League and only the second to do so in all competitions since then (David De Gea was the other in our Carabao Cup win last season).
It is now four successive shut-outs for the homegrown 23-year-old, who is only to grow in stature as he gains more experience.
After the derby, he posted a picture of he and Scott McTominay celebrating the victory. Scott also played in that Wolfsburg fixture five-and-a-half years ago and has now become a vital player for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Such trust in youth deserves to be rewarded and faith in Henderson is being justified as he continues to strive tirelessly to make those dreams of representing his boyhood favourites come true. If he can develop his throwing to the level Schmeichel attained in his pomp then it really could be an exciting counter-attacking weapon for United, like it was in Sir Alex's time. When unlocking highly organised defences can prove troublesome, it is something that could prove extremely useful.
Deano's distribution is one of his many assets, make no doubt about it.
The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.