Man United made their first foray into the transfer market under Louis Van Gaal late last week by acquiring midfielder Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao. After paying compensation to his former club in order to buy himself out of his contract, the 24-year-old has signed a four-year deal at Old Trafford, with the fee believed to be in the region of £29m:
Van Gaal has wasted little time in reigniting the club’s interest in Herrera after a deal to bring him to the Premier League fell through at the last minute under David Moyes, with the Scot reluctant to meet Bilbao’s asking price. With Holland’s progress in the Brazil World Cup ensuring Van Gaal is still in South America, it was left to assistant boss Ryan Giggs to face the press:
“Ander is a fantastic young player, with great energy and creativity. We believe him to be one of the brightest young prospects in Spain and I am certain he will be a big hit with the United fans. I’m delighted he has made the decision to come to Manchester and play his part in the club’s future. I’m looking forward to seeing him in action on our summer tour to America.”
A product of the Real Zaragoza youth system, the Bilbao-born Herrera made his debut back in 2008-09 when the club were still mired in the Spanish Second Division. Notching twice in 19 appearances, he helped steer Zaragoza back into La Liga and quickly became a key first-team player the following year, producing two goals and an assist over 30 appearances. Herrera delivered two goals and two assists the following season before joining hometown club Bilbao in a €7.5m deal.
His first couple of seasons with Bilbao saw Herrera produce just two goals and nine assists over 63 appearances in the Spanish top-flight before he turned in the most impressive season of his career in 2013/14. Fielded in the role in “the hole” in a 4-2-3-1, the 24-year-old notched five times and teed up five assists to help his side finish fourth and secure Champions League qualification for the campaign ahead.
Yet to play for the Spanish national side, Herrera has had plenty of experience at youth level for his country. The midfielder has turned out for the Spanish U20, U21 and U23 sides on a total of 30 occasions and found the net seven times.
While there’s no denying Herrera is a quality addition in the centre of the park, his versatility – allied with uncertainty over Van Gaal’s preferred formation – means there are question marks over his Fantasy prospects for the season ahead.
Considering the sizeable fee involved, it’s fair to say that the new boy hasn’t rolled up to Old Trafford to fight for a first-team place, though. We can expect Herrera to be a key player as the new man in charge looks to overhaul the playing squad – Moyes’ big-money signing Marouane Fellaini may well struggle to nail down a starting berth and could be sold on in the lengthy restructuring process. A lack of European football for United next term is another positive – rest and rotation will be far less of an issue, with Van Gaal firmly focussed on clinching the Premier League crown in his first season at the helm.
The 24-year-old is adaptable enough to slot comfortably into a three-man midfield if Van Gaal opts for a 4-3-3 set-up, with his distribution from deep and eye for a killer through-ball affording the Old Trafford club a much-needed creativity in the centre. The new United boss has other tactical alternatives, though. Holland’s current 3-4-1-2 formation, designed to hit opponents on the counter, has proven effective in the World Cup so far and could see Herrera either slot into the centre of the park in a four-man midfield or be shifted into “the hole” behind a front two. If Van Gaal opts for a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Spaniard could just as easily sit in front of the back-four in a double-pivot or be utilised as a playmaker behind a lone forward, reprising his Bilbao role.
Indeed, with some Spanish-based journalists convinced that Herrera’s best position is in “the hole”, Van Gaal has decisions to make for the season ahead. The new boy’s arrival places question marks over just where Juan Mata will be utilised – a move to the flank would surely diminish his potential, though it’s intriguing to note that Herrera created 1.6 chances per appearance for Bilbao in 2013/14 – a total of 53 in 33 appearances – whilst Mata averaged 2.2 key passes per game last term, totalling 63 from 28 Premier League matches for Chelsea and United.
With further uncertainty over Van Gaal’s intentions for Wayne Rooney, it seems that, until the veteran takes the reins and the pre-season friendlies get underway, only Robin Van Persie’s role and position in the United XI looks assured, with the former Arsenal man set to lead the line regardless of formation.
The recently-released Premier League fixture list certainly bodes well for Herrera’s prospects – Van Gaal’s side have the kindest opening schedule of any side over the opening eight Gameweeks, according to our fixture ticker. Home games against Swansea, QPR, West Ham and Everton, allied with Sunderland, Burnley, Leicester and West Brom suggest the Red Devils could be quick out the blocks, with investment in their key assets looking vital for Fantasy managers. If a more advanced role is on the cards, Herrera would be a welcome option for Fantasy managers having been deprived of a legitimate United midfield option for at least the past couple of seasons.