When Ander Herrera arrived from Athletic Bilbao in the summer United supporters couldn’t have been more thrilled. Despite arriving from the Basque country the Spaniard had signed for just £29 million, a steal for the whopping potential he had shown in La Liga. He was a younger and seemingly cheaper option than Cesc Fabregas and every Manchester United fan was excited to see how he would slot into the midfield.
The fans has a good knowledge of the player, having seen him star for Bilbao just a few years earlier; taking on the Red Devils in the Europa League last 16, Bilbao battered United 5-3 on aggregate. This was a player who had won both under 20 and under 21 tournaments with Spain, Ander Herrera was a seriously classy midfielder and he was everything United needed.
The Spaniard made his debut in the first match of the club’s pre-season tour of the USA, playing the full 90 minutes in a 7–0 win over LA Galaxy. Herrera was quickly establishing himself as a fan favourite, making three assists against Galaxy and many more through out the tournament. The youngster had everything, great distribution, skill and the ability to beat defenders. But when United started the 2014/15 Barclays Premier League season, both Herrera and his teammates were sent crashing down to earth. Old Trafford had been breached on the very first day of the season after United were beaten 2-1 by Swansea City.
Herrera and his team had been outmuscled in the middle of the park and unhinged in defence, and the confidence LVG had installed in his players throughout pre season had evaporated over night. Herrera was consequently substituted in the 69th minute.
United’s fortunes have improved since then, the Red Devils currently sit within the top 4 and are on course for a return to the Champions league next season. But as we reach the half way point it’s been a topsy-turvy season for Herrera. He has made just six Premier League starts for his club scoring twice. His season had been disrupted by injury and after suffering cracked ribs against West Ham he has struggled to cement a place in Louis van Gaal’s starting eleven.
With Michael Carrick’s injury in training last week, United fans may have expected to see the Spaniard starting against Leicester City in Saturday, but again Louis van Gaal opted not to use him. It seems bizarre because every time he has played he has enhanced United’s attacking play, so why is the Spaniard being left out of the starting eleven week in week out?
Well, there are a few options and for that I need to climb inside the mind of LVG.
The first one is physicality, does that first day of the season and the 5-3 defeat at Leicester stick in LVG’s mind? Well he’s admitted in recent weeks that the latter was the “worst day of his United career so far”. On both occasions United have been brilliant going forward and they were undone on the counter attack. So van Gaal has tried to protect the defence, Maroune Fellani and Wayne Rooney are better at tracking back and provide a more physical presence in midfield, so the manager has opted to start one of them over Herrera. Michael Carrick has been preferred in the holding role rather than Daley Blind because he leaves no gaps in behind the defence. Whilst LVG has sured up United defensively it has meant that in attack they have suffered, lacking tempo and the pace in behind.
To counter act this LVG has placed Di Maria in the number ten role, to drop deep pick up the ball and drive at the defence with his pace, but Di Maria is at his best without his back to goal and many fans would feel as the best crosser of the ball he should be playing out wide.
Herrera is also suffering from the number of superstars around him lining up to make the first team. LVG made Rooney his captain and in that he wants him to start every game. But the popular opinion is that Wayne Rooney is best placed as a number ten, so if he is not playing well enough to be starting there I question why he is starting at all?
LVG is also attempting to fit all 3 strikers into the side together, Falcao, Van Persie and Rooney; this decision screams player power and all of these players should be droppable for the good of the team. LVG is a tactical manager and the decision to play all three strikers could be psychological. Maybe he wants his super star strikers to feel valued with in this team of Galaticos. He wants them to be confident, but to learn that they won’t get anywhere without working together as a team? Maybe this is a possibility.
All of these factors mean that Ander Herrera does not play regularly for United. And as much as I like the tactical approach I think we have something special on our hands with Herrera. To improve physically the young Spaniard must play and whilst I admire LVG for everything he has achieved in his managerial career, I wish he could see it. This is an oversight that could cost us, but maybe the manager knows something I don’t.