With the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba in the summer, all eyes were on them to lead Manchester United back to the summit. Although they are living up to their reputation, a certain Spanish midfielder has quietly gone about his job in midfield. United were on a free fall after having lost three consecutive games against Manchester City, Watford and Feyenoord and Jose Mourinho was still trying to figure out his best eleven. Having started from the bench in the first four matches in the Premier League, Ander Herrera can be forgiven if he had thought Jose Mourinho was going to use him sparingly just like his predecessor, Louis van Gaal.
Mourinho however, decided to pair Herrera with Michael Carrick against Northampton in a tricky EFL cup fixture and he was vindicated of his selection Herrera when the Spaniard set up Marcus Rashford and scored a goal himself as United won 3-1. He started the next game against Leicester as United blew them away 4-1, once again proving to be influential in midfield and for United, their fortunes changed. Suddenly there was more fluidity in their game and they were creating more chances. Alongside veteran Michael Carrick and the £89M man Paul Pogba, Herrera brought a greater balance to the team. His ability to the ‘dirty work’ in midfield gave Paul Pogba more freedom to express himself and it made a difference almost instantly. He has been instrumental in United’s 16 match unbeaten run in the Premier League – the most by any team in Europe, their Europa League run and the EFL Cup triumph.
Herrera earned the praise of the Manchester United fans as he put in a stellar performance in the final. It wasn’t an easy day for the Reds as Southampton dominated the game throughout. Herrera, employed in midfield alongside Paul Pogba, constantly raced up and down the Wembley pitch to keep tabs on the Southampton attackers.
The Spaniard had 85 touches on the ball and made 63 passes with a passing accuracy of 84.1%.
His performance earned him a match rating of 8.33 from whoscored.com, second only to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He capped his performance by setting up Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s winner with a sublime cross and it was fitting in many ways that the killer ball came from the Spaniard.
Let us take a look at how he compares against the midfielders from the top 6.
The stats don’t lie. Herrera towers over the rest in terms of chances created and key passes, and the very important stat for a deep lying player, interceptions. He’s second only behind Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson in terms of tackles won. His pass competition rate of 88% is worth noting and he has also made more interceptions (19) in the opponent’s half than any other player in the Premier League this season. That is an impressive stat.
He has also recorded 8 assists in all competitions and has one goal to his name which isn’t quite as impressive but he’s been playing as a deep lying playmaker as opposed to his previous seasons where he has played further up. He’s one of the few players in the Manchester United team benefitting from Jose Mourinho’s arrival and he is quietly becoming the Portugese’s midfield enforcer. He is a vocal presence on the pitch, often not fazed by the pressure that comes with being a Manchester United player. His energy around the team and the passion for his club has certainly made him a fan favourite. He’s often been compared to Scholes and the Spaniard quickly shrugged off the comparison.
“I feel very proud when someone says I can play like him, but I don’t think so,”
“I’m not as good as him.” he said.
Although he says Scholes is one of his role models.
“Gus Poyet was a role model for me, and then the national team players like Xavi and Iniesta, but so were the United players like Scholes and Butt.” said Herrera.
He also gets the club. He knows what it means to play for Manchester United. He has brought personality to Manchester United’s midfield, which they had lacked for a while. And who is to say, he can potentially be Manchester United’s next caption especially with Wayne Rooney’s future in doubt beyond this season.