The 10-game unbeaten streak Manchester United have accumulated since December has been nothing short of impressive. Whether credit is rightfully due to interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, or Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba rediscovering their form in the post-José Mourinho era, there are plenty of roses to disperse to members of this improved roster.
However, one particular individual has been rather exemplary in the nearly two months since Mourinho’s December 19 dismissal. Ander Herrera has been a delight to watch, and that’s not just because he succeeded Wayne Rooney as the resident Red Devil to dispute every call with the official. No, the Spaniard has successfully cemented himself as part of Solskjaer’s starting XI in a recent matches, and he continues to improve with each fixture.
Herrera was involved in each of Mourinho’s final four matches in charge. Prior to that, the 29 year-old was pretty much ostracized from the pitch, having only started once in United’s first 11 matches of their 2018/2019 season.
Since emerging as a favorite of the caretaker manager, Herrera has not disappointed. His first flash of brilliance under Ole’s tenure came against Cardiff City in December. Off a sensational pass from Paul Pogba, Herrera had plenty of time and space to probably score from inside the box. Instead, the midfielder took two steps before launching the ball from 30 yards out and cleanly into the top right corner to double his side’s lead. He would ultimately finish the match with two assists on top of a goal.
Against Tottenham, Herrera was merciless on the pitch and even better at frustrating the opposition. His patient demeanor with every first touch was commendable, and there wasn't a sense of emergency to launch the ball forward with each possession. This is a fine contrast from his fellow midfielder Pogba, who excels at long passes.
Fresh off a draw from Burnley, Solskjaer would learn from his error of promoting Andreas Pereira to a coveted starting spot and instead return the honors to Herrera against Leicester City. The former Bilbao man exceeded expectations.
Herrera had the most combined tackles of any player at King Power Stadium.
Ander Herrera for Man United against Leicester:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 3, 2019
• Most tackles won (5)
• Joint-most interceptions (4)
• Joint-most take-ons (3)
• Second-most chances created (2)
• Third-most passes (52)
A fine performance. pic.twitter.com/tBRdrmirLw
Across the league, he is also statistically superb. No athlete has attempted more tackles (5.4) and won more tackles (3.4) per match than the Spanish international. Not bad for someone who was relegated to the bench for almost the entire first half of this year.
There is nothing flashy about his work, but perhaps his biggest attribute is how seamlessly Herrera blends in with Pogba and Nemanja Matić. Herrera has the common sense to protect the ball when necessary. When he emerges out of position, he maintains the intelligence to fall back into position and cover his assigned player. It’s clear Solskjaer likes what he sees, and Herrera approves of his tactics.
When speaking of Solskjaer’s successes since returning to Old Trafford, Herrera had nothing but positive sentiments about his new boss.
“Ole had that click,” he said while snapping his fingers. “With some players, they are performing at their best. Now, the most difficult thing is if they can keep it in the long period.”
He continued: “When you are manager, we sometimes speak too much about tactics. About the way one team is in position when the opponent has the ball. But, the most difficult thing for a manager is to get the best from his best players and this manager is doing it. We’ve all seen it.”
Even when discussing the looming fixtures that has potential to alter United’s trophy campaign, Herrera made sure to remain focused on Saturday’s matchup against Fulham.
“It will be a big mistake if we think further than Fulham, that’s a massive game for us because Chelsea are playing [Manchester] City,” he explained. “Let’s go game by game, because if you lose one game you regret.”
“Now for Fulham, then we will think about PSG. The best way to prepare for the PSG game is to try and win away at Fulham and that’s the way I think.”
Herrera is in the final six months of his five-year contract, and his performance in these upcoming matches could be a factor in United offering him an extension. While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (or whomever permanently becomes the boss in May) certainly needs to splurge on another top-tier midfielder this summer, for the time being Ander Herrera is the underrated hero at Old Trafford who is reminding fans why he became Louis van Gaal’s very first signing in 2014.