Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial – their performances have dominated headlines amid Manchester United’s resurgence. But there is one unsung hero leading United back to the promised land: Ander Herrera.
Herrera has become undroppable under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Spanish midfielder has been an ever-present since Jose Mourinho was sacked in December, with seven of his 13 Premier League starts this season coming after the Norwegian’s appointment.
“His energy and tenaciousness is vital for us. And that’s why he plays, more or less, every single game,” Solskjaer said after Herrera’s goalscoring display in Monday’s 2-0 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup fifth round. “He has loads of energy, he can cover the right hand side, he runs forward. You can’t just praise one, it’s 11 players, plus the subs, but Ander has done fantastic.”
It’s credit to Herrera’s resilience and patience – a reason why many supporters want him named captain – after he was limited to just 13 league starts last season, down from his 27 in 2016-17.
Fantastic night in London. Onto the next round pic.twitter.com/2Og3Ew5DeY
— Ander Herrera (@AnderHerrera) February 18, 2019
The baby-faced assassin from Bilbao – who is as Manc as they come despite growing up in northern Spain – was in and out of the team at the start of the campaign, having suffered from Nemanja Matic’s arrival the season prior. Fred’s £50million transfer looked set to leave Herrera on the bench more often than not.
But, just like Pogba, Rashford, Martial and others under Solskjaer, Herrera is shining at Old Trafford, where United have a 71.4 winning percentage in the league this season, compared to 40 when he doesn’t feature.
The passionate and hard-working fan favourite is still at his tenacious best, willing to get down and dirty for his team-mates. However, there is more to his game. He is providing the link between midfield and attack, freeing up Pogba.
Out of favour and headed for the exit door before Mourinho’s axing, Pogba has scored nine goals and recorded six assists with Solskjaer at the helm. The shackles are off for the French World Cup winner and that’s thanks to Herrera.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 18, 2019
Herrera is thriving in the attack-minded approach in Manchester – the 29-year-old able to showcase his passing ability and focus on pushing forward, rather than the opponent under Mourinho.
He was deployed in a man-marking role on Eden Hazard by Mourinho in 2016-17. There was none of that at Stamford Bridge on Monday. Herrera was free to help run the show in London.
Herrera doesn’t have his own emoji like Pogba or the skills of the flamboyant Frenchman. He is, though, the heart and soul of United – bringing balance and bite to a side filled with attacking talent. Sunday’s Liverpool showdown is tailor-made for Herrera and slowly but surely, he’s getting the recognition he deserves.
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