A stellar season and a Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year Award under his belt, Ander Herrera is a man in form. The Manchester United midfielder’s evolution under Jose Mourinho has been sensational. A man of the match performance in the Europa League marked the complete transformation from shackled bench-warmer to midfield enforcer.
Under former manager Louis Van Gaal, however, Herrera struggled to nail down a regular place in Manchester United’s starting XI, making just two starts in 20 games in his first season. His second season would again see him being left out of the side for long spells playing just 1543 minutes in 27 games in the English Premier League.
During his time in Spain with Atletico Bilbao, Ander Herrera had been compared with the likes of Barcelona legend, Xavi, a player able to orchestrate the tempo of a football match. Louis Van Gaal did not appear to see this quality in the Spaniard, choosing instead to play him much further up the field as a No. 10; a decision that would result in an up-turn in goal output but did not cement his place as a crucial figure for United.
The arrival of Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford would see Herrera finally become the player Manchester United fans thought they were getting back in 2014. Looking at the Manchester United team sheet last season, you may have been drawn to big names like Zlatan Ibrahimović, Paul Pogba or Henrikh Mkhitaryan. From a tactical viewpoint, however, it can be argued that Ander Herrera was one of the most important pieces of Jose Mourinho’s puzzle. Herrera has put in numerous impressive performances in a Manchester United shirt this season, stationed in front of the back four his relentless pursuit of opposition attackers allowed Paul Pogba the freedom to use his attacking ability to greater effect.
Arguably his best game of the campaign was United’s 2-0 premier league win over Chelsea. Herrera followed Chelsea’s playmaker, Eden Hazard all over the pitch, forcing him into an ineffective wide position and frustrating the Belgian all afternoon. His cool defensive performance was complimented by an outstanding attacking contribution, a sublime through ball for Marcus Rushford’s opener and a goal of his own capped off an outstanding showing.
Looking at the statistics, Ander Herrera was one of the leagues finest midfield players. Herrera has made more interceptions, clearances, and blocks respectively than the highly praised Chelsea midfielder, N’Golo Kante, despite having played 670 minutes less during the 2016/17 campaign.
Herrera also possesses a higher pass completion rate and more successful passes than Jordan Henderson, a key element of the Liverpool Captain’s game and considered by many one of his strongest attributes.
Not only has Herrera been an important defensive player in Mourinho’s Manchester United side, he has also developed offensively; contributing to United’s attack where necessary and proving his versatility. Speaking to Sky Sports, the 27 year old had this to say about his current manager,
“He told me that I was going to play sometimes a different role in the team. He told me sometimes I was going to play more defensive and in other games he was going to need me more forward. I told him I’d play wherever he wanted me to play and I would give my best.”
Herrera’s improvement under Mourinho has included in all aspects of his game. The midfield enforcer is not only immensely talented, but has become a vocal presence for United on the field and has proven unfazed by the pressure of big games. For example, in the League Cup Final Manchester United met Southampton in a contest which saw Ander Herrera produce a man of the match performance. In a game dominated in large parts by an attacking
Southampton, Herrera worked tirelessly up and down the field tracking the movement of Southampton’s forward players. The midfielder also managed to deliver a perfect cross for Zlatan Ibrahimović’s winner which secured Manchester United another League Cup. A complete performance in an important final.
The Spaniard has settled into his role at Old Trafford, despite an underwhelming start, and is now a fan favourite to take the club captaincy heading into the 2017/18 season. A massive honour for an incredibly talented and, arguably, under-rated player, it’s hard to imagine a United midfield without him now.