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11th Dec 2017

Ander Herrera’s analysis of the Manchester derby is admirable but wrong

"It's hard to lose the way we did"

Robert Redmond

“It’s hard to lose the way we did.”

Ander Herrera was arguably Jose Mourinho’s most important player last season. The Manchester United midfielder was excellent as the club won the EFL Cup and the Europa League. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the team’s talisman, David de Gea was their best player and Paul Pogba the most expensive. But Herrera was Mourinho’s lieutenant, his representative on the patch who carried out his instructions expertly. Herrera just got what it meant to be a player in a Jose Mourinho team, and deservedly won the club’s player of the year award.

However, it hasn’t quite worked out that way this season.

Since Nemanja Matic’s arrival from Chelsea, Herrera has lost his place as an automatic starter, and now only seems to start when Pogba or Matic aren’t available. However, even though he’s no longer first-choice in Mourinho’s midfield, the Spaniard is undoubtedly a Mourinho disciple, and it’ll be no surprise to learn that he shares his manager’s view of Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Manchester City.

“It’s hard to lose the way we did because we have lost with two unlucky goals,” Herrera told reporters following the match.

“Apart from that, I don’t think they created too much just in the first half one good action by Gabriel Jesus, and he shot on David’s hands. After that I think we controlled the game. It is true we played most of the time in our half, but we didn’t have too many problems. It’s a real pity to lose the way we did. It was very unlucky. the first goal the rebound went to Silva and the second Romelu’s clearance kicked the back of Chris (Smalling). It is very disappointing to lose the way did. The only thing we can think now is we are still second, we want to keep chasing them. I know it is difficult, but we want to keep winning games and now beating Bournemouth (on Wednesday) is all we can do. It is a big punch because of the way we lost. When you play against City you can expect to have problems when they have the ball, but we didn’t have too many problems when they had the ball, that’s why we feel even more disappointed.”

Pep Guardiola’s side now have an 11-point lead over United, and the victory at Old Trafford was comprehensive, even if the scoreline suggested otherwise. But there seems to be two views on the match. One is that the home side were unlucky, that they were beaten in a close game by a brilliant team who won thanks to uncharacteristically poor defending. If Romelu Lukaku scores a chance in the second-half that past United strikers, from Mark Hughes to Andy Cole, Ruud van Nistelrooy to Robin van Persie, would have dispatched, then the score would have been 2-2. Then, with a fervent home crowd behind them, United might have won the game in the final minutes.

The other argument is that United were completely outplayed, City were vastly superior in possession, and won the ball back brilliantly when moves did break down. They controlled the match from the first kick to the last and United were strangely passive, sitting back waiting for mistakes rather than trying force them. Guardiola’s side ended the match with a back-four of Kyle Walker, Nicholas Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala and Fabian Delph, yet United left Lukaku isolated against a make-shift defence and rarely attempted to exploit City’s backline. Mourinho’s team appeared fearful of trying to make anything happen in the match.

Herrera certainly wouldn’t agree with that view, and has fully back up his manager’s approach and reading of the match, which is fair enough. The midfielder’s claim that United lost because of two “unlucky” goals and that they “controlled” the game is difficult to understand. They didn’t, by any means, “control” the match. As Guardiola said after the game, City won because they “were better in all departments.”

No-one would expect Herrera to admit this, and his loyalty to Mourinho is admirable. But it’s difficult to agree with his view on the match.