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The midfielder received rave reviews for his performance against the Premier League leaders and can use that to inspire his team against rivals City
Few teams have managed to contain Chelsea luminary Eden Hazard this season, nor conquered the atomic presence of PFA Player of the Year N’Golo Kante. Ander Herrera, however, succeeded in both in Manchester United’s 2-0 Premier League victory over Antonio Conte’s table-toppers last week.
The Spain international set up Marcus Rashford for United’s first and scored the second, but most impressively smothered Hazard from start to finish and reduced the Belgian’s impact in the 90 minutes to nil.
Herrera followed his Man of the Match performance against Chelsea with another majestic display in United’s trip to Turf Moor, in which Jose Mourinho’s side ran out 2-0 winners at Burnley. Again, the Spaniard registered an assist, taking his total for the campaign to six – more than any other United player and the highest return of his career to date.
The 27-year-old is flourishing under Mourinho’s guidance, and is presented with another opportunity on Thursday in the Manchester derby to further cement his status as a favourite at Old Trafford.
“I am very thankful to Mourinho. This season has been the most regular one for me at the club and that is with Mourinho on the bench,” Herrera recently commented. “I am very happy. He gave me, from the first day, a lot of confidence and he told me I was going to be an important player for him.”
Herrera embodies what it means to be a Mourinho player. His tactical intelligence is coupled with a hard edge, while he is also predominant in United turning defence into attack. Often, it is Herrera who orchestrates the United midfield, positioning his team-mates and communicating throughout. Importantly, too, Herrera is a nuisance. While those associated with United admire the former Athletic midfielder greatly, those who go up against him have few nice things to say.
Few people will be able to predict the starting XI of both Manchester clubs ahead of Thursday’s meeting, such is the incalculable nature of both Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. However, Herrera’s importance to how United operate means he will almost certainly start in the middle of the pitch for the Old Trafford side, who are looking to overtake City in the Premier League table at the Etihad, should he be able to overcome his ankle injury.
Herrera has made more interceptions than any other midfielder in the Premier League this season, and ranks ninth in terms of successful tackles. His mobility when alongside Marouane Fellaini is invaluable and will go some way to stifling the wizardry of City playmaker Kevin de Bruyne, who has 14 assists to his name so far this season. The Spaniard’s masterclass against Hazard earlier in the month is unlikely to be replicated exactly against City on Thursday, but his belligerent pressing of the ball will certainly be present. Herrera does not go hiding.
“I have to keep working, performing and giving what the manager wants me to give,” he told the club’s website this week. “We have great players and Manchester United has the capacity to sign big players, so I cannot sleep.”
There is a hunger about Herrera which frightens opponents, and a consistency which frustrates opposing supporters. Very rarely is a player so efficient, so often – a major factor behind Kante’s rise to prominence in the English top flight. Herrera’s performances this season have arguably been as important as Kante’s, and the Spain international is one of few who can genuinely rank himself alongside the Frenchman.
The pair are not afraid to fight. When you go to war, you need soldiers – the type to roll up their sleeves and do their job without the need to be lavished with praise. And United are undoubtedly in a battle – a battle to overcome the challenge of their city rivals in the race of a top-four finish and win the Europa League.
Merely a month ago, Champions League qualification looked an impractical target rather than a realistic goal. Now, though, having overcome Anderlecht in the Europa League, and stretching their unbeaten league run to 23, United have a lot to be optimistic about.
A victory over City would take them two points above their neighbours, moving them into third in the table, also above bitter rivals Liverpool.
Should Mourinho’s men pick up a result at the Etihad, Herrera is likely to play a large part. Supporters from both sides will be seeking a show of heart when the two teams go head-to-head, and Herrera will be at the forefront of the battle.