As the teams were announced on Saturday quite a few Reds were questioning whether the midfielder who’d had an impressive campaign last season but a disappointing one this time round would finally step up.
Thankfully for United he did, with a performance of not just energy, vision, grit and determination but also one of the finest displays of sh*thousery ever witnessed on a football field. Ander Herrera, we salute you.
It’s not been an easy seven months for the former Bilbao man, after a series of displays last season which seemed to cement his place in United’s starting eleven, he’s regressed to playing a bit part role.
The Manchester derby has offered Herrera both his damnation and salvation over the two league games this season. In the Old Trafford clash, he was almost invisible, his sole contribution to stopping a dominant City display was an embarrassing attempt at winning a penalty that rightly earned him a booking and only his manager seemed to truly buy into.
If the 2-1 loss to City at Old Trafford was Herrera’s par horribilis then Saturday’s 3-2 win was his par mirabilis, restoring the fans’ faith in our very own, rolling on the floor, shirt pulling, fouling little bundle of wonderful.
Almost all of the plaudits went to Paul Pogba whose brace set United on the path to victory, but forget him, we all know what he’s capable of and while footballing excellence is okay, I much prefer a wind-up merchant who can boil urine quicker than a hippy’s kettle.
Herrera has a long history of not just helping United win vital games but doing so in a manner which makes the opposition and their fans resemble the cast of 28 Days Later. It’s an amazing talent, bordering on some form of voodoo.
Whether it’s Ross Barkley getting pulled back when he raced free at Wembley – only to receive the same yellow card as Herrera for his reaction – Steven Gerrard giving him a stamp, or Gabriel Jesus impersonating someone on the verge of a mental breakdown. Herrera knows which buttons not just to press, but to whack with an industrial sized mallet – before no doubt falling to the floor holding his wrist and earning himself a free kick.
Saturday was ‘peak’ Herrera, not only was he one of the few players who refused to give up during the first half, as City threatened to run riot, he also helped shift the momentum the Reds’ way during the second.
There’s been a lot of criticism lately of Herrera, partly because after being United’s most consistent midfielder last season he’s now become almost the opposite this one. So much so that Scott McTominay is often preferred to the Spaniard on the pre-match selections of the omniscient United fans on social media not to mention the actual manager himself.
Thankfully for those of us who still have faith in him, Herrera has shown he’s capable of rising to the occasion- before falling to the floor dramatically- when United really need him. There’s definitely life left in his Old Trafford career, the question is can he be the third midfielder in the Pogba-Matic axis that’s become Jose Mourinho’s formation of choice?
Whether he does or not remains to be seen, as much like the rest of United’s squad, Herrera seems to be just one bad performance away from banishment to the bench and the cold shoulder from the manager.
One thing is certain, there’s few players – if any- amongst United’s squad who can keep talented opponents’ quiet while at the same time evoking such rage in others.
Even now two days after the derby, Herrera is the talk of the town with accusations – which United have denied – that he spat on the City crest at the Etihad while leaving the field at half-time.
On a weekend which saw grown men punching seven bells of s**t out of one another in the city centre, the focus on whether Herrera’s saliva touched the sacred artefact that is the Manchester City floor sign, is quite frankly beyond laughable.
But it’s Herrera, it’s what he evokes in our rivals and I for one, hope he continues to do so for years to come.