Manchester United’s summer signing, Ander Herrera, has proved to be an impressive solution to their midfield problems. Tom Chambers writes why the Spaniard has been so important.
Ander Herrera has made a highly impressive start to his Manchester United career. In his four appearances so far for the club, he has excited fans to the point that many have underlined their view that he could potentially be United’s most important signing of the summer.
United’s declining midfield
For a period of around six seasons United’s midfield seemed to be in terminal decline. This can be attributed to many factors such as; the ageing of Paul Scholes and the club’s inability to find a player worthy of being considered his replacement, Paul Pogba’s decision to move to Turin, injuries ruining the United career of Owen Hargreaves, Darren Fletcher’s long term absence through illness and Tom Cleverley and Anderson’s failure to live up to their potential.
This became a major problem for the team at both ends of the pitch with the club’s robotic, one dimensional midfield unable to provide a steady stream of chances for United’s very talented strikers, whilst during this period you’d be hard pressed to see any of these midfielders score over 4-5 goals. They also did not provide adequate protection for the defence with opposition players often able to run straight through the heart of the team. A midfield of dynamism, technique and guile is essential to any successful team and that is where Herrera comes in.
The man himself has, in recent days, stated his desire to emulate the great Paul Scholes, saying:
“I have a lot of respect for him and I always enjoyed watching him. He always worked hard, helped the team and created a lot of chances not only for himself but for all his teammates. I know it will be difficult but I wish one day I can be similar to him.”
Herrera’s impressive start
Herrera’s hard work, ambition and desire is what has taken him to Old Trafford, where undeterred by the collapse of a potential move last summer, he went on to have an impressive season for Bilbao. His admiration of Scholes and ambition to become like him is demonstrated in aspects of his playing style. Like Scholes, Herrera possesses a rare knack of being able to dictate the tempo of a game and become the heartbeat of the team. So far this season he has posted a very high pass success ratio of 89% and averages a respectable 63.8 passes per game.
However it is not the number of passes he makes per game which has been so eye catching, but the way he uses the ball so proactively to create chances. His head is on a constant swivel and his almost perpetual movement in looking for space means he’s always available for a pass. This keeps the game “ticking over” and allows United to maintain the tempo and rhythm of the game. Scholes was the absolute master of this particular art and Herrera has some way to go if he is to become the player Scholes was, as shown in the team’s 4 goal collapse at Leicester where keeping the ball more effectively both individually and as a collective would have killed the game.
There are other qualities Herrera provides which players such as Carrick, as important as he has been in recent seasons, and Cleverley did not. Herrera averages 1.5 shots per game and 1.3 key passes per game, areas United’s other midfielders have struggled in, whilst he also has 2 goals and 1 assist to his name in 4 games so far. This is a marked improvement on last season where a trio of Carrick, Fellaini and Cleverley failed to provide a single assist between them until match week 37 and only 2 goals all season. Herrera is also competent in the defensive side of midfield duties averaging a team high of 3.5 tackles a game as well as 1.3 interceptions per game. (all stats via WhoScored)
Potential leader and long-running admiration
Herrera could also grow into a leader for United both on and off the pitch. In an interview which featured on Manchester United’s official website, Andreas Pereria cited Herrera for “the way he speaks to the other players” showing that he is quickly finding his feet at United and making an impression on his teammates. One will be quick to point out how United’s midfield has lacked that leadership and subsequent organisation during those declining years following the retirement of Scholes and absence of Fletcher. The Spaniard can seemingly fill this psychological gap in midfield, in addition to the physical deficiency faced so far.
This week, Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed that Herrera has long been on United’s radar stating that the club scouted him around the time of Athletic Bilbao’s Europa League last 16 ties with Manchester United. Despite being the type of player United have needed for so long, there is a feeling he has arrived at exactly the right time. With years of experience in Spain behind him and now surrounded by world class talents such as Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Juan Mata, in addition to the fact that his age of 25 leaves big margins for improvement, there is a tangible anticipation that he could flourish on the biggest stage.
The dynamism, energy and creativity he brings to the team marks him out as one of United’s most important players and they need to get him back from his latest injury setback as soon as possible. For United fans, the wait for a midfielder of genuine quality may well end up being worth it.
Written by Tom Chambers
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