Ander Herrera explains how he and Paul Pogba can solve Manchester United's midfield problem
Since his arrival at Old Trafford from Athletic Bilbao in the summer of 2014, there has been a lingering suspicion that Ander Herrera is capable of so much more.
United’s purchase of the Spaniard was far from academic. Famously, David Moyes and club executives made a hash of trying to acquire him during the Scot’s first months at the helm but, within a year, Herrera put pen to paper after activating his own buyout clause at Bilbao.
Herrera sporadically sparkled under Louis van Gaal but a lack of consistency in both where he was selected and his subsequent performances, dictated that the 27-year-old remained somewhat of an unknown quantity.
Herrera’s footballing acumen is not in doubt, nor is his endeavour, but he has rarely shown himself to be the lynchpin of a United midfield that is yet to recover from the dissolving of the singular partnership enjoyed by Roy Keane and Paul Scholes.
At present, the club has a plethora of central midfielders on the books, in Herrera, Paul Pogba, Michael Carrick, Morgan Schneiderlin, Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini, Tim Fosu-Mensah and the exiled Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Jose Mourinho selected Herrera alongside Fellaini for the victory over Bournemouth on the opening day of the season but, once Pogba was purchased, the former Chelsea boss opted for him and the afro-sporting Belgian for the subsequent four league encounters, two of which United lost, in addition to the Europa League defeat at the hands of Feyenoord.
On the back of three consecutive losses, Mourinho was compelled to act and, subsequently, dropped Fellaini in favour of Herrera, while moving Juan Mata into the No.10 role at the expense of Wayne Rooney.
The impact of which was immediate. Not only did United defeat Leicester by 4-1, but did so with a level of fluency and guile that had previously been absent.
Furthermore, with Herrera sitting deep, receiving possession from the defence to instigate moves, Pogba was permitted to operate with a greater freedom and purpose.
Although United could only manage a 1-1 draw with Stoke, they gave, according to the manager, their best performance since his appointment.
Again, Pogba and Herrera were prominent, but United will take little encouragement from hitting the target just nine times from 24 attempts.
Herrera received his first call-up to Spanish senior side this week and while speaking to Goal in that capacity, he espoused Michael Carrick’s wisdom and touched on his nascent partnership with the world’s most expensive player.
“It is going well,” he explained.
“I also have a great example in that position in Michael Carrick, because he has been one of the best players in the last decade, and I think I can learn a lot from him.
“But Paul is a very strong, very physical player who shoots with both feet. He can dribble, he can defend… he has it all. I can then stay back to steal the ball, to keep the position, and from there initiate attacks. I’m fine, and I’ll try to provide everything that the manager asks of me.”
Moreover, Herrera said that he is determined to be a vital cog in the Mourinho machine but, by his own admission, claimed that will only transpire if his form is unwavering.
"With Mourinho I have also played in attacking positions in the EFL Cup (3-1 win over Northampton Town) and even scored a goal. I am a team player and I will do whatever he asks of me, but I’m very happy ahead of the defensive line.
"But now I think I have some consistency. I know I have to keep working to earn Mourinho’s confidence even more, but it is true that I feel good in the new position and it’s also true that maybe that little change of position was what has allowed me to receive a Spain call-up."