Manchester United may be in 6th position, but they have showed signs of being a really good team in recent weeks. The general consensus is that they have the quality to finish in the top four and if they maintain their recent performance level, it should only be a matter of time before they start climbing the Premier League table. Jose Mourinho has found his strongest starting eleven and one key player for him this season has been Ander Herrera. He has been in-and-out of the first team since moving to Old Trafford, but he is now emerging as one of the finest complete midfielders in the league and Mourinho has played a big role in helping him improve his game.
The role that he plays is box-to-box midfield and he is relied on to do the running for Michael Carrick and the defensive work of Paul Pogba. He provides the midfield trio with balance and has shown a consistency that few other midfielders have in the Premier League this season, with his performances helping him break into the Spanish national squad. Herrera has both the tenacity off the ball and the style when in possession, making him an exciting player to watch in both halves of the pitch.
It has been his aggression and tenacity that has stood out this season, with the Spaniard averaging 5.9 ball retrievals per game. These split between tackles (2.7) and interceptions (3.2), showing that he is adept at both. His reading of the game is excellent and that has really shone through over the first half of this season. The best example comes from Sunday’s match against Liverpool, as he competed well against one of the best midfield units in the Premier League and actually managed to finish the match with the most ball retrievals (9). This is impressive as Liverpool are the best at pressing and for Herrera to make more ball retrievals than any of their midfielders underlines his importance to Manchester United.
Herrera has a great eye for a pass and can influence matches when he does have possession of the football. He often sets the tone for his side as he wins the ball in midfield areas before launching a Manchester United attack. There were a couple of examples of this against Liverpool on Sunday. This season, Herrera is averaging 1.2 key passes per game and creates a chance every 63.5 minutes. Considering that the Spaniard isn’t one of the primary creative players, with both Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan seen as bigger attacking threats, his creative stats are very impressive. Moreover, he has three assists to his name this season.
The main problem that is threatening to undermine the Spaniard’s game this season is his lack of discipline, as he can sometimes over-step the line. On Sunday, he was overly aggressive as he performed a professional foul, then overreacted at the response from Roberto Firmino. It is actions such as these that show Herrera in a poor light, especially among neutrals. In addition to his occasional petulance, Herrera has received three yellow cards and one red. This is an area that he needs to prevent becoming a bigger issue than it needs to be.
Anybody that watches Ander Herrera on a regular basis will confirm that the Spaniard is one of the most consistent midfielders in the league. He is a great player to have in the squad as he can contribute in both halves of the midfield. If Manchester United didn’t have him, they wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as they are right now. Michael Carrick has received a lot of plaudits, while Paul Pogba will always take the headlines, but it is Herrera that may be the most important midfield player for Manchester United. It is great to see him finally become a fixture in the United starting eleven.