With the first half of his debut season in the Premier League hampered by injury and controversy , Ander Herrera is yet to have a consistent run in the Manchester United starting XI. Now overcoming his fitness problems, Herrera could be key to resolving the midfield problem that has impacted United in recent matches.
Despite their good form going into the Christmas/New Year run of fixtures, 3 draws in 4 matches meant United failed to capitalise on the rare occasion of Manchester City and Chelsea dropping points. Two of the draws came against Aston Villa and Stoke – while Villa have become defensive this season and the Britannia Stadium being a tough place to visit, wins are needed if they are to challenge for the title – and there was a common theme between the two matches.
The lack of speed and guile in the midfield meant that tempo was often slow and allowed the opposition to keep a strong shape that was difficult to break down – this can be noted with Rooney and Mata both being played in a midfield 3 in recent games. During his appearances this season, Herrera has shown that he is something different to what Manchester united have within their squad. An ability to recycle possession confidently, but also that offers a threat to the opposition backline.
Against Stoke, United had 694 touches and 506 passes in total, yet as can be shown below the amount of touches in the final third was minimal, while 251 of the passes (just under half) were within the middle third of the pitch and 104 made in the attacking third were mostly sideways.
This dominant passing can obviously work, however when the tempo is slow and the movement is static, there is a need for the midfield to attempt something themselves – with a direct run at the defence for example – or speed the circulation of the play up which would in turn begin to open up spaces on the pitch – and that is what Herrera can offer.
A similar pattern was seen in the match before Christmas at Villa Park, when there was even more dominance for the Red Devils. 724 touches and 588 passes were made throughout the match. There were a few more touches in the box than the Stoke match – Aston Villa were down to 10 men for around 30 minutes – but the number of long shots (7) made shows that Aston Villa were frustrating Manchester United into having attempt from distance.
On an individual performance level, Herrera has 3 assists from 13 chances created and 2 goals in 10 appearances (6 starts, 4 substitute appearances). With the back injury that he suffered a few months ago now not affecting him, Herrera will be the player that can control and orchestrate the midfield for Manchester United – a pass accuracy of 87% and making an average of 47.9 passes per match – is a good sign for the rest of the season.