Herrera must keep his place at forefront of Man United’s midfield


There was little flashy about Manchester United’s 3-0 win over Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday. The Red Devils were supremely organized, tireless off the ball and ruthless in their attacking advances. Anthony Martial offered raw glimpses of his stunning potential, David de Gea made decisive stops when called upon and Chris Smalling continued his recent renaissance with a composed showing.

The midfield sent out by manager Louis van Gaal was the most crucial contributing factor to the team’s commanding display, though. Especially the utilization of Ander Herrera.

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Stationed in front of the hugely effective double pivot of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, the former Athletic Club man had license to create behind lone striker Wayne Rooney. For a player who hasn’t ever nailed down a regular spot in the first XI under the tutelage of the Dutchman, it was an emphatic reminder of his quality.

Not only did Herrera scrupulously probe at the Everton back four and carve out spaces between Gareth Barry and James McCarthy, but he showcased what has been an ever-present goalscoring instinct since signing for United, getting on the end of a sumptuous cross from Marcos Rojo to put his team 2-0 in front. It was a determined and decisive piece of play from a player desperate to seize his chance.

Those qualities make Herrera a big favorite at Old Trafford, with the vast majority of United supporters bemused as to why he doesn’t get more opportunities in the starting XI.

In his debut term for United last season, the 26-year-old only started half of the Red Devils’ games, as fitness snags, fluctuations in form and concerns over his sleight somatotype prevented van Gaal from giving him significant duties. But the way United lined up on Merseyside, conquering an Everton side who have caused them big problems in recent encounters, set an encouraging blueprint for the team and Herrera.

The summer acquisitions in midfield positions seemed tailor made to get the best out of the Spaniard. Goodison Park was the first time the formidable triumvirate of Herrera, Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger were fielded as a trio, and they gelled instantaneously.

Schneiderlin is a forceful presence at the base of the midfield, dominating aerially, shackling opposition creators and recycling possession. Schweinsteiger seems to be getting better and better as the weeks go on for United in his role as chief distributor. So superb was he at Goodison it was like watching a dad join in with a school game.

SEE MORE: The forgotten story of United’s Adrian Doherty

It’s a formidable pair which gives the Red Devils a sturdy foundation, and while Herrera adds a little bit of stardust and incision, deploying the Spaniard in the most advanced position doesn’t leave United needing to compromise on cohesion. Indeed, defensively, the performance at Everton was the Red Devils’ best one of the season. They were never dragged out of their shape, shut off spaces succinctly and Herrera was a vital part of that. If van Gaal wants to marry organization and creativity, Herrera’s the standout candidate to operate in that classic no. 10 position.

Rooney, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini would all offer completely different kinds of attacking threats if they were to be stationed off the central striker, but none are as tactically switched on as Herrera. Neither do they match the 26-year-old in getting about the pitch, tracking runners, holding positional discipline or knowing how and when make bursts forward, either.

You can certainly tell the Spaniard has worked and excelled under a coach like Marcelo Bielsa, who demands both dynamism and clear thinking from his players in equal measures. Herrera adheres to each of these traits and in this particular role, bringing a balance which the Red Devils seem to lack when one of the aforementioned trio taking up the duty.

Of course, there will be times when a more enterprising option is needed to be used, as not every match will be up against a capable, in-form outfit away from home. Let’s not forget, United had the effervescent Memphis Depay on the bench for the clash against the Toffees.

SEE MORE: Van Gaal targets derby win to prove title credentials.

But it’s been clear since van Gaal arrived in England, and throughout the majority of his managerial career, that he’s a coach who sets his teams up with meticulous attention to detail in mind and, subsequently, strict tactical instructions to follow. Finding offensive operators who can flourish under these kinds of constraints is no mean feat.

Herrera is one of these rare breeds. So as the Dutchman plots United’s path back towards the summit of English soccer, the multifaceted midfield man must continue to play a significant part.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

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