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Ander Herrera still has a role to play for Manchester United this season

The Spanish midfielder was almost an ever present last year, but has been frozen out so far this season.

International Champions Cup 2017 - Manchester United v Manchester City Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Ander Herrera, one of the heroes of last season, has been a notable absentee from the starting lineup so far this season. After the arrival of Nemanja Matić many expected José Mourinho to play him alongside Herrera behind Paul Pogba, thus placing two notorious Premier League enforcers side by side and giving Paul Pogba the freedom to attack with the vision and creativity he did at Juventus that made him worth £89m.

That wasn’t the case.

Ever the masterful tactician, Mourinho has fielded a 4-2-3-1, as expected, but with Pogba listed as a second deep-lying midfielder. Though he has performed his fair share of defensive duties, Paul Pogba has made his presence most known in attack, and Matić alone has been enough of a midfield barrier to allow Pogba the room he needed to work his magic.

How then will Herrera fit into the team?

Herrera’s only appearance this season came as a late 85th minute substitute in the 4-0 away win at Swansea. The match was well and truly won, but the player he came on for may indicate preseason expectations weren’t so off when it comes to Herrera’s involvement.

Herrera did not replace Pogba or Matić, but rather Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who was playing the number 10 role behind Romelu Lukaku. Should Mourinho switch up the midfield in that way again it could would further relieve Pogba of defensive duties and allow more fluidity in attack.

It should be noted that Herrera is not too shabby going forward himself. He was awarded the 2016-17 Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season award for more than just his midfield physicality and defensive prowess. He also has a knack for picking out key passes, creating chances in the final third, and occasionally scoring through powerful strikes. Herrera’s class was a welcome sight during the difficult and often dull tenure of Louis Van Gaal, and made him a fan favorite among United faithful.

Mourinho has not hidden how he feels about Herrera either, calling him “one of the smartest players” he has ever had play under him in a university lecture over the summer, and praised his tactical vision.

The praise is deserved as well, considering Herrera is no stranger to fighting for his place in the team since his arrival at Old Trafford. Louis Van Gaal was often criticised for not using Herrera more, and even under Mourinho Herrera was used more as a substitute for much of the first part of the 2016-17 campaign. He made a name for himself however with key performances in big games for United, particularly his shutdown performance against Liverpool and his dominance of Eden Hazard and friends against Chelsea. He was also crucial in Manchester United’s championship runs to the FA Cup in 2016 and the EFL Cup and Europa League in 2017.

Herrera is a dynamic midfielder, a fan favorite, and, more importantly, a Mourinho favorite. The gaffer has been one to alienate players he has deemed useless, but Herrera is not that kind of player. Expect to see him play a more significant role soon, especially when United’s schedule heats up later this month with EFL Cup and Champions League group stage fixtures looming.