In 2012, Manchester United were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League group stages, only to leave the competition for the so-called UEFA Europa League to face European clubs of smaller sporting and financial abilities.
The round of 32 draw had decided them to face Spanish side Athletic Bilbao. A team based on Basque-based Spanish players who had eliminated Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United out of the competition. A two-legged game which had seen the rise of Ander Herrera who had put a performance which caught the eye of players like Rio Ferdinand. The English defender then himself urged the club to buy the Spanish prospect.
A year later when David Moyes took the Old Trafford hot seat, Ander Herrera was one of his main summer targets and the player himself was keen and pushing for the deal to conclude, only for it to fail in the dying minutes of that transfer deadline day.
As soon as the Dutch manager Louis van Gaal started his reign at the Theatre of Dreams, he made his first signing who was, unsurprisingly, Ander Herrera.
Despite Herrera's obvious passion for the club and football in general, during van Gaal's time, the Spanish wasn't favoured in central midfield, on the bench watching Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick.
When Jose Mourinho was appointed as Manchester United boss this summer, a lot of the players feared they could see the end of their Old Trafford careers, especially with the big-name signings of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly, and of course, Ander Herrera was one of those players.
Mourinho’s arrival has witnessed the revival of the Spanish midfielder. In fact, the continuously neglected player by his national team was called for the La Furia Roja side for the first time, thanks to the former Inter Milan manager's help in turning Herrera into a complete midfielder in his squad.
Almost everything starts with Ander Herrera at Manchester United
Jose Mourinho is certainly preparing for life at Manchester United once Michael Carrick calls his career a day.
The Portuguese manager started the season by pairing Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba in central midfield. A 4-2-3-1 formation caused the French midfielder to underperform and become a regular subject of criticism by the media and football world in general.
The former Juventus player has indeed needed a player to sit in front of the back four so that he can flourish in that left side of the midfield, the position in which he had given most back in his days at Turin.
Today, most of Manchester United’s attacks are set and initiated by a pass from Ander Herrera. The Spanish player sits at the back, in front of the back four, providing the freedom for Pogba and the midfielder on the right (usually his Spanish mate, Juan Mata).
Ander Herrera’s new position at the club is giving Jose Mourinho the ability to switch between a variety of formations represented in 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1.
In his new position, the former Athletic Bilbao and Real Zaragoza player had already made better impact in some areas with only 10 games played this season, comparing the 26 and 27 games played in the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons, consecutively.
By just completing his 10th league appearance this season (a home draw against West Ham), the 27-year-old midfielder has already made more successful passes on average per game (58.60) comparing to the 52.73 and 33.81 he made in the previous two seasons respectively.
Defensively, he is currently on an average of two tackles per match, where he was on 1.73 and 1.67 in the two seasons under Louis van Gaal.
Both Ander and Jose found themselves loving to work together where the Portuguese turned the Spaniard into a warrior and the type of a player to thrive in a Mourinho type of a team.
Manchester United players should represent their countries
It’s very strange that a Manchester United player does not play international football. Ander Herrera’s improvement under Jose Mourinho has seen him called for the Spanish national side for the first time in his career.
In fact, the player recently made his debut for his country in a friendly international against England at Wembley, the stadium in which he won the competition he long had dreamt to win, the FA Cup.
Jose Mourinho’s side is struggling but he is certainly building an interesting team
The former Chelsea manager is the third manager in control of the Red Devils after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. It is a new team with new players and new positions and the delivering of positive results is just about time.
Ander Herrera, with his new position, is part of the rebuilding process and his new role is mainly concentrated on giving the team the midfield balance. The Spaniard has also a role in advancing upfront and helping the team when they are in total control, a position in which he has assisted once and created a total of nine chances in the Premier League so far.
Should Herrera continue his improvement under Mourinho, and should the team chemistry keep improving, we should be able to witness a very interesting Manchester United side which could possibly become one of the strongest sides both domestically and internationally.