Sunday’s rough encounter with Chelsea saw Manchester United triumph 2-0 over the champions-elect. United’s victory was due in no small part to the tactical excellence of Jose Mourinho, who happily celebrated the win and declared where his allegiance belongs. One of Jose Mourinho’s biggest tactical elements on the night, though, was Ander Herrera, who played another phenomenal match to add to his string of excellent performances for United this season.
Herrera’s performance, both statistically and qualitatively, was the best of a United player this season, as he kept Eden Hazard completely out of the game in a man-marking system that saw him play in positions ranging from central midfield to right-back. Nullifying Hazard completely, Herrera also managed to provide an assist for Marcus Rashford’s opener and score a goal of his own to seal the victory for the hosts. Those who claim he hasn’t offered much from an attacking perspective were firmly silenced as Herrera made his tenth assist, which is double the amount of Paul Pogba this season.
Herrera’s tendency to show up in the biggest moments of matches, play well in the biggest matches, and show consistent form in every match this season, prove he is the player of the season for United, supplemented by various occurrences throughout the campaign.
Firstly, Herrera’s ability to contribute in the most important moments of matches has been undervalued hugely by United this season. Many people will remember Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s brilliant finish into the top corner against Tottenham, or Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s winner late in the League Cup final, but both were assisted by Ander Herrera, not even mentioning Marcus Rashford’s goal after seven minutes on Sunday.
With United searching for an equaliser against Everton at Old Trafford, it was Herrera who opted to move to right-back, and his influence was unbelievable, as the midfielder charged forward and provided an assist for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s equalizer- albeit, it was disallowed. Herrera’s influence and determination has allowed him to play in a variety of roles that have ensured that Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic can operate in their best areas, which everyone knows is what results in the ball ending up in the back of the goal.
Herrera deserved Man of the Match awards in a variety of the biggest matches, from a United perspective. Beginning at the Manchester Derby in September, which he didn’t start, Herrera came on at half-time and completely monopolised the game, holding City in their own half while United tried to break them down with a strike force of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, and Marouane Fellaini.
At Anfield, when United earned a draw at one of the most difficult stadiums in the league, Herrera recorded the highest amount of tackles and interceptions of a player this season, with a remarkable 17 combined actions. Herrera showed up again in United’s draw with Liverpool at Old Trafford, producing several self-sacrificing moments of defensive resilience.
Against Arsenal, with United dominating the game, Herrera produced the killer ball to create United’s only goal for his friend and teammate Juan Mata. While some argue that he got sent off twice in massively important matches, neither of them were red cards but awful decisions from the match officials.
Herrera’s main competitors for Player of the Season are Antonio Valencia and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Those who state Ibrahimovic’s case claim that he shows up in the biggest moments, while Valencia’s claim to the award is his incredible consistency. Ibrahimovic shows inconsistency quite frequently, and Valencia isn’t really the best player on the pitch in the biggest of matches unless United plays poorly, but Herrera has been consistently phenomenal and showed up in the biggest moments in crucially underrated ways.
Herrera has been remarkably consistent, proficient in attack for a defensive midfielder, and playing well in all fixtures across all competitions. He’s rated as the ninth best player in the Premier League on WhoScored, with only Paul Pogba ahead of him in third, and the eleventh best on Squawka, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pogba ahead. While many players have had very good campaigns in what could prove to be a season of redemption for Manchester United, Herrera is undoubtedly at the top of the pecking order, driving United forward in midfield and holding the side together defensively.
The United midfielder was a huge omission from the PFA Player of the Year shortlist, and it would be beyond unjust to discredit him from two rightfully deserved accolades.