Ander Herrera is a Spanish professional footballer who plays for the English club Manchester United, or at least should be playing on a weekly basis. However, the midfielder has found himself out in the cold for the club’s first four outings this season, which saw them produce five goals and concede just one. Ander managed to make 31 appearances for the club last season, providing a series of dazzling displays that had United fans clamouring over him and many expected him to be a sure starter in the team’s first eleven for the 2015/16 season.
No one can be sure of the real reason Ander has been sidelined with the team slow in tempo and bereft of creativity. The transition between defence and attack many times appeared as tortured and laboured as Gareth Barry at Goodison Park. When it comes to tempo and creativity however, many believe and few will argue against, that Van Gaal has had the answer sitting on his bench this entire time. Herrera possesses all the tools necessary to give this United midfield the boost it needs. Energetic, with a keen eye for a defence-splitting pass and the occasional goal (always followed by a self-satisfying sliding celebration), Ander has more than proven himself to be ‘that guy’; sorry Welbeck.
If we backtrack to last season, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Van Gaal hasn’t readily jumped on the Herrera wagon quite as quickly as the fans. The club suffered similar frustrations last season plodding along barely winning matches with no true sense of purpose or inspiration. Even with all their woes, despite having spent £28.8m on the former Athletic Bilbao man, Van Gaal was unimpressed and reluctant to play the young maestro.
Louis Van Gaal employs a methodical, possession-based approach – something which is at odds with the 26-year-old’s style of play. But during the boring draw with Newcastle, United were begging for someone to take a risk, cries that Van Gaal continued to ignore. Even when featured, Van Gaal and his coaching staff have found fault with Herrera. With Manchester United 1-0 up against Tottenham, Van Gaal decided to throw on the 26-year-old for the final 23 minutes, presumably to inject some energy to a side that had started to wane slightly. But within moments of his introduction, Van Gaal’s coaching staff were up on their feet, berating Herrera—presumably for his failure to carry out the tactical instruction handed to him from the bench.
And that is perhaps the only explanation yet to be offered. Van Gaal, the great tactical taskmaster, seems to believe Herrera doesn’t possess the necessary positional discipline to hold down a place in central midfield. The Spaniard was ostracised from the United first-team last season for such reasons, as Van Gaal attempted to school him in the ways of his famed philosophy.
After watching today’s return leg in the Champions League qualifier against Club Brugge however, one feels a ‘toot your own horn’ moment coming on. The Spaniard was excellent with his display providing both a goal and an assist. The performance has led to the question about the tactical restraint that Van Gaal has on his players, especially those in the midfield. The arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin this summer has benefited United’s back four—who haven’t yet conceded a league goal this season—but they are hardly the men to spark the team’s ailing front line into life. It’s little wonder United are struggling to create goal scoring opportunities, given how few risks they take in the final third.
In reality, this is just gloating on the surface; logically one wants to find out just how much United improved if any with the Spaniard pulling his majestic strings today.
On the surface, the involvement of the Spaniard in today’s fixture had very little impact on the team’s overall performance. Statistically the team have been improving over the course of the past five games slowly but surely. The number of shots taken and number of those shots on target have increased by over 100%. The chances created have tripled from 5 to 15 and there has also been an increase in the amount of passes racked up by the team which will no doubt attribute to their increase in possession.
A deeper individual analysis will show that while the team was already improving from a numbers perspective, the manner in which they went about their business lacked intent and fluidity and that is what we finally saw today. It would be good to note that despite Ander’s lack of minutes, he had the same amount of key passes and chances created as his competitors Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Carrick & Morgan Schneiderlin. Adding his goal and assist in today’s game sees him rise above them all.
FUN FACT: Carrick has been the least productive of the four midfield options and has contributed the most errors. On the other side Morgan Schneiderlin has been United’s most industrious midfield option with 10 interceptions, 8 successful tackles and the most forward passes (115) of the four.
In all fairness it’s difficult to properly assess the Spaniard’s influence on this team with his lack of playing time. Hopefully today’s performance will do much to convince the manager that the lad needs to be playing and more importantly needs to be starting for us. Given the opportunity to choose a consistent team for the next five fixtures it would feature a midfield consisting of Herrera, Schweinsteiger & Schneiderlin. We hope that Van Gaal will see the same light that has been there to behold this and every morning since Herrera was purchased and grant the Manchester United faithful what they really want, ‘Blackjack’.