Ander Herrera still has an important role to play at Manchester United

Although Ander Herrera became one of José Mourinho’s more trusted lieutenants on the pitch in his first season in charge, the Spaniard found himself without regular opportunities since the arrival of Nemanja Matić last summer.  

When the Serbian came in, Mourinho had his man from Chelsea and a player he had worked with for a number of years. It was clear why the Portuguese coach wanted him: aerially dominant, experience as an out-and-out screen in front of the defence, and can also provide goals on the rare occasion moving forward. But the most important aspect to the signing was Matić could carry out his every instruction.

After racking up 50 appearances in 2016/17, Herrera managed 11 less with over 1,500 minutes less. The Spain international had little niggles throughout the season, but the overriding factor was Mourinho’s preference in Matić and Marouane Fellaini – he evidently felt that they could offer more stability and insurance in United’s midfield.

And while this season he has had injury problems again, Herrera impressed massively in Manchester United’s most recent fixture against Bournemouth. When coming on for Fred, Herrera was given the licence to control the middle of the park and allow Paul Pogba to move forward. Not stuck in the deepest role in United’s midfield as he has been previously, Herrera also found himself contributing towards attacks and providing a dynamism that was sorely lacking.

Although United were dominating possession just before Herrera came on, they were struggling to create clear-cut chances. When the Spaniard entered the fray, the Red Devils’ output was far greater and there was more sense of control being emitted. United went on to win that game 2-1 thanks to a late equaliser by Marcus Rashford, but Herrera will feel unfortunate not to have found the back of the net himself after his speculative volley whisked past the post by a matter of inches.

Herrera has been used this season as a substitution rather than a starter and there has been murmurs of the former Athletic Bilbao player leaving Manchester at the end of the season when his contract expires.

The problem for United would be that, in this current landscape, it would be incredibly difficult to replace him. And that is not just talking about the monetary value lost on him due to leaving on a free transfer. Herrera embodies a fan in the way he plays. He is passionate, loves Manchester United and plays with his heart on his sleeve every time he takes to the pitch. Some of his man-marking performances – especially against Eden Hazard – have been exemplary and the kind of sacrifice that is not as commonplace in today’s generation.

It is difficult for a club like Manchester United to find players who are genuinely at the club because they have an affinity to them. Of course, that is the case for most players – it is a job at the end of the day – but it does truly seem as if Herrera was born to play for the Red Devils. The way he goes about his duties for the club appear beyond what is asked of him and his determination on the pitch speaks for himself; he is a fan’s favourite for a reason.

What separates Herrera to most that passes through the revolving door at Manchester United is his ability to turn up and produce in the pressurised moments. The Spaniard excels on the big stage and has shown, especially against Liverpool and Manchester City, two of United’s biggest rivals, his qualities in a both defensive and offensive capacity.

And so with that being said, Herrera should be in Mourinho’s midfield come this weekend when the Manchester derby takes place. The central midfielder should be used alongside  Matić and Pogba to disrupt City’s progressive flow from back to front of their team. Herrera is not a typical ‘pretty’ midfielder, but he carries out the dark arts well – to the complaints of many opponents – and has the ability to score in his locker.

Herrera is bound to be more involved as the fixtures come thick and fast as we enter into to the December period, but Mourinho has to utilise his Spanish terrier on a more regular basis. With the new contracts given to Marouane Fellaini and Luke Shaw, as well as negotiating with David de Gea and Anthony Martial, Manchester United must make sure they, too, tie up the services of Herrera – a true United player.

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