Manchester United got back to winning ways yesterday with an impressive 3-0 win in a potential bogey fixture away to Everton, with Louis van Gaal’s men looking like a side capable of putting forward a title challenge in 2015-16.
Although Wayne Rooney ending his drought at Goodison Park has captured most of this morning’s headlines, a fellow goalscorer deserves specific praise for his performance and understated importance to the team.
Ander Herrera headed home the visitors’ second goal in the first half in an able and mature display from a player that continues to improve at Old Trafford.
Van Gaal appears to have settled on the 4-2-3-1 formation this season, with Herrera’s role in the system initially unclear.
With three able deep-lying playmakers in the form of Michael Carrick, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin to fight it out for the two boiler room starting berths, just where the former Athletic Bilbao man fitted in remained to be seen.
However, yesterday at Goodison the gifted star operated in the number ten role behind Wayne Rooney and looked at home in a devastating United attacking display.
In recent weeks the Dutch manager has partnered Wayne Rooney with Anthony Martial in attack, but on this occasion the impressive former Monaco man started from the left in place of Memphis Depay – with the team looking much more balanced in the final third as a result.
Herrera played an important role in linking the side’s midfield with its attack; his interplay with diminutive compatriot and fellow creative soul Juan Mata was again a joy to behold.
Despite the absence of Depay and Martial being shunted into a wide position, United looked much more dangerous with the Spaniard in an advanced midfield role and it showed with three well-taken goals.
Herrera’s performance will provide satisfaction to Van Gaal, with many fans surely questioning the omission of Depay and sidelining of Martial before the game started – but the Spaniard’s display entirely justified the trainer’s selection.
Going forward however, Herrera’s impressive showing will give his manager a personnel headache as important games come thick and fast over the next month.
To facilitate the 26-year-old in the starting XI will mean the continued switch in position of a number of players including Rooney and Martial, while Depay looks destined for fringe status if Herrera is in the running to play.
The Spaniard’s sparkling performance will give Van Gaal more options and it is now up to the gifted technician to prove himself as worthy of a week-in, week-out start – but also forge an identity of sorts.
Compared to some of his Premier League countrymen operating in a similar number ten role, Herrera on paper comes up short, with most surely rating the likes of David Silva and Cesc Fàbregas in more regard than the United playmaker.
However, Herrera brings an energy and work-rate that the afore-mentioned duo lack, while his clever interchanges, movement off the ball, reading of the game and neat play on the ball would not look out of place in the Spanish national team.
In his second season in English football and coming into the prime of his career, it is now time for this impressive midfielder to add consistency to his play, with his slightly unlikely presence in the number ten role having the potential to be a real asset for his club.