Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had no hesitation in allowing Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea to return to Spain for the birth of his first child as Dean Henderson prepares to line up against rivals Manchester City.
The long-serving number one was conspicuous by his absence from Wednesday's drab goalless league draw at Crystal Palace due to what were repeatedly described as "personal reasons".
De Gea has since confirmed that his partner gave birth on Thursday, with the club giving their first-choice keeper permission to return to his homeland despite the potential coronavirus-related quarantine headaches.
Solskjaer expects him to be back soon but could not give a timeframe as Henderson prepares to line up in Sunday's tough trip to relentless runaway Premier League leaders City.
“It’s a fantastic day for David,” the United manager said. “Of course when you become a dad that’s probably the best possible feeling you can have. The ones who have been lucky enough to have that feeling know exactly what David is going through now.
“I’ll give him the time he needs before he comes back. He has to go home and in the old world that’s a day, you come back and you’re ready again.
“Now with the pandemic and quarantines of course it’s a different world, but still we felt when David wanted to go and be there to support his girlfriend of course there’s not even a decision to make.
“Dean came in and played well and he’s ready, so I’ll give David the time he needs of course.”
Henderson would have likely started three of the next four next matches given he is United's cup goalkeeper anyway, with the Europa League last-16 fixtures against AC Milan and FA Cup quarter-final against Leicester coming up.
The international break follows the March 21st trip to the King Power Stadium but Solskjaer expects De Gea "to be available very soon" as they "just have to follow the Government rules".
“We want our players back as soon as possible but there’s a human being in there that we had to look after and David was there for this fantastic day for him, his girlfriend and his family,” the Norwegian said.
“I don’t know when he’ll be back. It won’t be long before he comes. It was easy when I travelled back from the Euros. [My son] Noah was born on a Friday and I played against Spain on the Tuesday, travelling back on a Sunday. No quarantines, nothing.
“The world’s a different place but, still, this is the biggest occasion in any parents’ lives so of course we allowed him to go.”
United lost that semi-final clash 2-0 to their rivals in January but rallied after that disappointment to go top of the Premier League.
City usurped them on January 26th and have since built a 14-point cushion over Solskjaer’s second-placed side, who have won only two of their last eight top-flight matches.
“Our focus is just on this one game and not where we’re going to end up, we just have to be the best possible Man United and try to improve on last season,” he said.
Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, claims it is a “privilege” for Manchester City to compete with United for the title. Victory would be another step for City, who have won their last 21 matches in all competitions, towards a potential quadruple but Guardiola is paying 20-time champions United plenty of respect.
He said: “It’s Manchester United – all the time United are top, top class. For us it’s a privilege to compete with them, being there in the last seasons in front of them.”
City may have had the edge over United in terms of league position in recent years but their derby encounters have been more evenly split. Since taking charge at the Etihad Stadium in 2016, Guardiola has won six of his 13 Manchester derbies, lost five and drawn two.
“I know how difficult United are,” Guardiola said. “We have experienced that in the last years and I have the feeling that every year they are a better team than the previous season. “They are a team with quality and, for more than one year they have not lost away, and they have had good results at the Etihad Stadium.
“But at the same time we know the opportunity we have to increase the distance. We spoke in training about what we have to do to beat them on the pitch and the way we want to play.”
Overall, City are unbeaten in 28 games and Guardiola has been hugely impressed by the hunger of his players, which he feels compares favourably to what he experienced while in charge at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
He said: “I’ve had incredibly hungry teams like you cannot imagine. To do what we have done in these four years, winning, still winning and, after that, winning and still winning, being there at the end, it’s because these guys have something special, like we had in Barcelona and Munich.
“No words can inject that desire for the players. It comes from inside, from trying to win, to compete or collaborate with their mates to do the best they can.”
Guardiola has the rare luxury of a fully-fit squad available this weekend. Nathan Ake’s return after a muscular problem means that for the first time this season, City have none of their squad in the treatment room.
Guardiola said: “Good news for us, Nathan is back. He made part of the training session and felt really good. Everyone is fully fit and that is important for the next few weeks ahead of the international break, and hopefully the people will come back well after that.”