The player behind the resurgence of the Red Devils.
Having lost his place in the Red Devils side under Louis van Gaal, Herrera’s time with current manager Jose Mourinho looked to be heading in the same direction. Starting on the bench for Manchester United’s first four Premier League matches, it looked as though the Spaniard’s stay in Manchester might be over.
However, one impressive performance versus meager League One side Northampton, which included a goal and an assist, significantly changed Herrera’s future at United. Herrera was again given the start against Leicester City the following fixture, which proved to be another positive as United comfortably won 4-1.
Since then, Herrera started the next 20 out of 21 matches for the Red Devils. Coincidentally, United have gone on an unbeaten run of 17 games, the longest streak United has had since the 2012/2013 season.
During the brief moment when Mourinho was experimenting with Paul Pogba’s position, the introduction of Herrera provided the solution Mourinho needed. Paired with Michael Carrick and Paul Pogba, Herrera has shown his qualities as a top notch box-to-box midfielder.
Giving the likes of Pogba freedom to roam and push up in attack, Herrera has been the solid foundation that has been giving United’s midfield a sense of great balance and poise. With his solid 47 interceptions, Herrera has the most interceptions out of any other midfielder in the Premier League. More interestingly, Herrera not only has more interceptions than Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, but also reached this stat quicker than the Frenchman. Compared to Kante’s 1530 minutes, Herrera completed this feat in 1189 minutes.
Compared to his fellow United midfielders, Herrera completed the highest number of clearances, while only Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini, who possess a greater sense of height and physicality, have won a higher percentage of aerial duels.
Despite playing in a deeper defensive role, Herrera’s stats have not dwindled either; rather, he has shown improvement in almost every aspect, with three Premier League assists and 25 chances created so far this season. Known for his great vision and passing, Herrera ranks third among Premier League midfielders in number of successful passes this season with 1,375. Despite tailing behind Paul Pogba and Jordan Henderson, the Spaniard still has a higher average pass accuracy of 88%, while Pogba and De Bruyne have 85% and 77%, respectively.
Yet beyond his statistics, it is Herrera’s exceptional work rate that both Mourinho and Manchester United value the most. With a team and manager who prioritize their players’ work rate rather than skill, it is to no surprise that Herrera has molded into United’s midfield with ease. Covering what seems like every blade of grass, Herrera’s presence on the field is overwhelming.
Whether it is as a defensive tackle who spurns on a counter attack or a long cross field ball, Herrera is constantly at the heart of United in all aspects of the game. With newfound confidence, the Spaniard has shown a sense of leadership and bull doggedness that have drawn frequent comparisons to United legend Roy Keane. Just how Claude Makélélé and Michael Essien were invaluable to Chelsea, Herrera is the equivalent to United.
Any player taking the ball off their own teammate by force shows their importance to the team. Without previous leaders Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, and Edwin van der Sar, Manchester United were in dire need of a commander — a fighter. With Herrera in the side, United looks and feels like the “old United.”
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