Ander Herrera’s £32m arrival from Athletic Bilbao very much excited Manchester United fans in the summer of 2014.
Before then, there had been a massive hole left in United’s midfield ever since Paul Scholes’ second retirement at the end of Fergie’s last season. A hole that the club, under Moyes’ reign, thought could only be filled by the deadline day signing of Marouane Fellaini from Everton. Oh, how wrong they were.
Throughout his first season at United, under the guidance of one Louis Van Gaal, Herrera had shown glimpses of what he can do in the middle of the park. Since then, he has proven himself as arguably the best signing of the Van Gaal era.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) June 26, 2015
The following season saw Herrera improve his work of the previous campaign. Now that he had fully adjusted to life in Manchester, it was his moment to breakout as United’s main man in midfield – then Van Gaal signed Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, throwing him off completely.
In a season cursed with the colours of disappointment – even for Van Gaal’s standards – it was Jose Mourinho who truly had the job of turning the side who had failed to crack Top Four into world-beaters once again.
The then world-record signing of Paul Pogba reasserted United as one of the biggest clubs on the planet and meant that with a more attacking compadre alongside him in midfield, Herrera could take the opportunity of becoming United’s enforcer and run with it – and he did exactly that.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) May 18, 2017
Herrera’s revelation as a holding midfielder earned himself the award of United’s Player of the Year, drawing comparisons to Chelsea’s N’golo Kante – and the statistics even favour the Spaniard.
Most notably, April’s clash with Chelsea saw Herrera’s best game in a United shirt by far, nullifying the threats of Pedro and Eden Hazard completely and even bagging himself a goal and an assist. He completely bossed it.
Ander Herrera's first half by numbers vs. Chelsea:
100% aerial duels won
2 tackles won
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 16, 2017
Herrera had missed just seven games all season in the Premier League that year, collecting five man-of-the-match awards and becoming a crucial part of United’s Europa League and EFL Cup successes.
At the end of the season, many fans (me included) were adamant that Herrera should have captained the side into this season. He possesses all the characteristics a good captain should. The passion, the drive, the work-rate, and quite frankly he is one of our best players on his day.
The £40m signing of Nemanja Matic – which is an absolute bargain, by the way – was news that every United fan wanted to hear last summer.
Matic is a quality signing. Exactly what we need. Herrera, Matic and Pogba is some midfield.
— Matt Eades ☀ (@Red_Devil1981) July 31, 2017
Finally, Jose was going to play a midfield three. Finally, Pogba was going to play in his preferred free-roaming position that everyone knows is where he plays best. Finally, the balance in midfield had been restored.
Well, 27 games into this year’s campaign and it’s hardly gone as fans expected. Herrera has started just eight games in the league, the large majority of which coming in Paul Pogba’s absence in October/November.
Jose is still regularly fielding a midfield two of Matic and Pogba, at the expense of Herrera and Pogba himself. So why is Mourinho failing to realise Herrera’s importance?
Mainly, it has something to do with Jesse Lingard’s own turnaround in form in the number 10 role, but even he hasn’t done much in recent games.
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) February 15, 2018
The rumoured rift between Pogba and Mourinho has left fans questioning their own manager. It seems that everyone knows the key to Pogba’s success except him, and Herrera is the perfect man to solve this.
If you look at the midfield on paper, you have Matic, the spine, always sitting in front of the defence and pinging passes all over the place. Then, you have Herrera, the box-to-box workhorse, covering in defence just as much as utilising his attacking capabilities on the counter. Finally, you then have Pogba, the free-roaming creative hub of the entire United side.
Just look at the Everton game in January for example. United walked away from Goodison Park with a 2-0 victory and did so without the likes of Lukaku, Rashford, Mkhitaryan, and Valencia. Why? Because of a midfield masterclass from Paul Pogba, who assisted both goals.
Would Pogba have played so well without having the freedom of both Herrera and Matic beside him? I doubt it.
Pogba's game by numbers vs. Everton:
5 chances created
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 1, 2018
The fact of the matter is that Pogba is far better when not being shackled by the positional responsibilities that are required in a midfield two. Leave the defensive duties to the other two while Pogba is constantly running into pockets of space looking for the ball. This is exactly what he did when he came on against Huddersfield in the league at the start of the month, and he completely changed the game because of it.
What this boils down to really is Jose needing to consistently play 4-3-3. I realise I’m not exactly re-inventing the wheel by saying this, but it really is that straight-forward.
Playing this system benefits both Herrera and Pogba, and if Jose neglects this in pursuit of playing a number 10, then he really isn’t getting the point.
Pogba’s game by numbers vs. Stoke City:
4 chances created
67% dribbles completed
91% pass accuracy
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 15, 2018
Jose has sacrificed Pogba’s football over Lingard’s, and I believe that’s completely backwards, Herrera has been another player to suffer because of this. Granted, when he has made an appearance he hasn’t been amazing, but that’s because he hasn’t been given ample opportunity.
Why is Jose failing to remember how important he was for us last season? It baffles me, it really does. This is something the boss needs to amend sooner rather than later. The last thing we want is for him to force Herrera out of the club, because that’ll be when he starts losing our trust.
I’m all for putting my faith into the hands of Mourinho, I stood by his accomplishments of last season even when people have tried to belittle them.
But this is an issue so simple yet has the potential to be catastrophic. As soon as he starts losing the trust of players and fans, that’s where things start to turn sour. That’ll be when Manchester United will become nothing more than just another club for Jose to put on his already extensive CV before moving on, and that’s not what we want at all.