Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has backed Dean Henderson to become Manchester United and England's future No 1, but insisted David de Gea's position remains safe for now.
De Gea has endured a gradual slump in form over the past 18 months and was subjected to a scathing attack by former United captain Roy Keane after his latest high-profile blunder in Friday's 1-1 draw at Tottenham.
The Spaniard's struggles have opened the door to a challenge from Henderson, who has impressed on loan for Sheffield United over the past two seasons, but who will be ineligible to face his parent club at Old Trafford tonight.
De Gea's form over the next few months is expected to have a significant influence over whether Solskjaer opts to loan out Henderson for another season, possibly back to Sheffield United, or gives him the chance to stake a first-team claim at Old Trafford.
Henderson is contracted to United for another two years, with an option to June 2023. But, while the club is under no pressure to sell amid widespread interest in the goalkeeper, the 23-year-old is reluctant to pen a new deal with United unless he is promised the No 1 spot ahead of De Gea.
Solskjaer said he would hold talks with Henderson before next season to determine a plan of action after accepting that he cannot carry three leading goalkeepers, with Argentina No 1 Sergio Romero currently De Gea's understudy.
But the United manager pledged his immediate faith in De Gea and, in a retort to Keane, who had described the Spaniard as "the most overrated goalkeeper I've seen in a long, long time", claimed he was still the world's best netminder.
"David's conceded two goals in his last seven games but every goal he concedes it's like, 'Well, he's finished'. Of course he isn't," Solskjaer said. "For me, he's still the best goalkeeper in the world, and I wouldn't swap him with anyone.
"We are lucky enough we have Sergio as well as a great No 2 to challenge David and we've got Dean on a long-term contract.
"So we're in a good position there. We want Dean to keep developing. The No 1 keeper at Man United has the shirt because he deserves to and he's the best one."
De Gea's error against Spurs followed similarly troubling lapses of concentration against Watford and Everton this term, and Arsenal and Barcelona last season. While he has few equals in making quick, reflex saves, De Gea - who won four club player-of-the-year awards in five campaigns - has faced criticism for failing to command his box and his susceptibility to aerial balls.
At a time when Manchester City's Ederson and Liverpool's Alisson are redefining the expectations of goalkeepers, through their quality on the ball, it has shone a more unforgiving spotlight on De Gea's shortcomings in that area.
His position has also gone largely unchallenged for years and, having signed an eye-watering £375,000-a-week contract last September, at a time when his form was poor, some inside the club have been left to wonder if he has been allowed to grow complacent.
There is certainly a feeling in some circles that De Gea would benefit from increased competition, but Solskjaer has yet to drop him for a league match and promote Romero.
Perhaps Henderson's form will force De Gea to refocus as, over the past two seasons, the Sheffield United goalkeeper has enjoyed more than twice as many clean sheets, committed half as many errors leading to opposition goals and shots and his save percentage is also four per cent higher.
"I think Dean has had a fantastic couple of years at Sheffield United and I think, eventually, he will end up as England No 1 and Man United No 1," Solskjaer said. "But he's got the best goalkeeper in the world to tip off his place."
Solskjaer said he recognised that Henderson needs to be playing for his development and with the European Championship finals next summer, adding: "We need to make sure Dean plays football to develop," the United manager added.
"Of course that's an option - for him to stay at Sheffield United.
"We've got a good problem to decide how our goalkeeping department is going to look next season," added the United boss. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Manchester United v Sheffield United, Sky Sports Main Event, 6.0
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