Author Liam Bryce

Author Liam Bryce

Mourinho’s men march on to face in-form Baggies

December 17, 2016 Tags: , Matches 7 comments
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Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s last gasp winner at Crystal Palace was that it almost had that old air of inevitability about it. There was no cast-iron guarantee that the Reds would find a way past Palace’s enforced rear-guard, but it felt much more likely than the days of watching Louis Van Gaal’s United pacing around outside the door without so much as knocking it. Now, a tough test at West Bromwich Albion is the perfect opportunity to take another step in the right direction.

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Reds head south ahead of crucial Christmas period

December 13, 2016 Tags: , Matches 13 comments
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It is perhaps too early to tempt fate and claim that Manchester United has turned a significant corner, but Sunday’s ship-steadying victory over Tottenham Hotspur was certainly a step in the right direction. It was José Mourinho’s first league victory at Old Trafford since September, a statistic that could be considered a sacking offence in the knee-jerk world of modern football. Yet, as is so often the case, there has been much more to United’s season than the raw data. And the Reds could take another step forward at Crystal Palace on Wednesday night.

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Frustrating Reds look to build on Cup success

December 3, 2016 Tags: , Matches 11 comments
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It’s official – Manchester United has made the leap from chronically depressing to mind-bogglingly frustrating. In what feels like a cruel joke, José Mourinho’s side is now, in many ways, the antithesis of Louis van Gaal’s uninspiring outfit, but for the rather large caveat of being unable to find the net. That will have to change with the Reds at Everton this weekend.

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Mourinho walks the line on United’s ‘cultural issues’

November 14, 2016 Tags: , , , , , Opinion 2 comments
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It was telling that even after a morale-boosting victory over Swansea City last weekend, José Mourinho still felt compelled to address what he believes to be the biggest problem at Manchester United. The Portuguese alluded to what he believes are “some cultural issues, influenced by a situation that has been going on for a few years,” before controversially singling out some members of his squad. Simply put, Mourinho feels that some players aren’t giving him enough.

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Life after Rooney: from focal point to bit-part player

September 27, 2016 Opinion 10 comments
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It was a moment more than three years in the making. Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson swung his axe in the striker’s direction in 2013, Manchester United fans were introduced to the idea of life after Wayne Rooney. It has taken longer than Ferguson would have envisaged, but following a series of abject performances by the striker, José Mourinho finally elected to relegate an ailing Rooney to the bench.

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New year, same old Wayne

February 14, 2016 Tags: Opinion 8 comments
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No other player has epitomised Louis van Gaal’s second season at United quite like his captain. The Dutchman’s side staggered through the latter part of 2015, with December becoming statistically the worst month in the club’s long history. And, much to the chagrin of United’s support at large, the manager has simply refused to go away. Much of that analysis can be directly applied to Wayne Rooney.  Read More

Uncertainty reigns as 2016 approaches

December 19, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Opinion 22 comments
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December football is a highlight of the British football calendar, with a seemingly infinite stream of games on which to feast over the festive period. In addition to being an excuse to binge on the beautiful game, and copious amounts of food and drink, it is often a pivotal juncture in Manchester United’s season.

Sir Alex Ferguson often reiterated the need to capture form during the final month of the year. Those were simpler times, and the cloud of uncertainty that looms heavy over Old Trafford ensures that much of the excitement present in previous years is decidedly absent.

There is little to stir any festive optimism in a side whose insipid displays continue – an early Champions League exit in Wolfsburg, followed by an embarrassing defeat at Bournemouth, and then at home to Norwich City, are unwelcome variations on the mundane goalless draws that have become the norm.

There is a growing anxiety among United’s support, especially with little certainty about the future. The evidence suggests there is justification in supporters’ fears.

“Boring, boring United”

At the top of fans’ Christmas list of woes is the dismal nature of football on display from Louis Van Gaal’s side. The pragmatic Dutchman has been cast as Scrooge in recent weeks, and his overtly regimented approach to the game has almost completely nullified the entertainment traditionally associated with United.

One of the most concerning factors is that despite weeks of criticism Van Gaal appears completely unshaken in his belief in the “philosophy” – a concept that seems to have less meaning with every passing week. His ethos is centred on defensive solidity and ball retention, but the important passages detailing the action in the final has been torn from Van Gaal’s coaching manual.

In addition to a indistinguishable team identity, Van Gaal’s choice of formation and substitutions have also raised eyebrows. United’s travelling support was horrified when injury to Ander Herrera at Watford prompted Van Gaal to revert to the much maligned 3-5-2 system. It removed much of United’s attacking impetus in the process.

Even with a wealth of options at his disposal the Dutch manager’s selections have continued to provoke ire. Deploying two holding midfielders against less decorated opposition, who rarely bring much ambition at Old Trafford, is simultaneously mystifying and typical of Van Gaal’s tenure.

Not only does the tactic often result in the aforementioned Herrera being left out, but it is an exasperatingly cautious approach. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Michael Carrick are excellent footballers, but there is no need for two-thirds of this trio to start in home games against lesser sides.

Almost as frustrating as Plan A is Van Gaal’s persistence in using the lumbering Marouane Fellaini as a route one alternative. Despite his apparent “genius” there is little ingenuity in a contingency plan that involves diagonal balls launched in the Belgian’s general direction – incredulous, even, that an expensively assembled squad should resort to low percentage tactics.

Injuries

Regardless of the squad’s many deficiencies Van Gaal has once again suffered for a side decimated by injury. Luke Shaw’s horrific leg break in Eindhoven is still fresh in the memory. While the left-back should make a full recovery Shaw’s injury has set the tone for another season of ill luck. Wayne Rooney, Ander Herrera and the indispensable Chris Smalling have all been ruled out in recent weeks, along with the perpetually afflicted Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo.

Once again some question Van Gaal’s rigorous training regimen and its propensity to increase United’s injury list. Pending a thorough scientific analysis the truth will remain unclear, but the skeleton squad that took to the field at Wolfsburg and Bournemouth raises questions about how wisely United invested last summer.

The doomed pursuit of Sergio Ramos was exciting, but amid the frenzy there remained a sense of deja-vu about the episode. Ed Woodward has spent the past two summers flaunting the club’s wealth in a manner akin to Floyd Mayweather – the result is a rash of big name players using United as leverage in contract discussions.

And it is this blind pursuit of marquee names that has left United threadbare in defence, forcing Van Gaal to use his most inexperienced players in significant games. United’s sense of faith in youth is positive, but a monumentally important Champions League tie against a top German outfit is not the optimal time to break in new blood.

In this the board and Van Gaal share blame for the squad’s shortages – and for failing to learn from the painful lessons of last season.

January shopping

United’s recent spate of injuries, coupled with the impending January window, has raised speculation that the club may once again delve into the market. Acquiring top talent is no easy task, as is often made clear by managers nationwide – and Van Gaal has already moved to temper expectations.

“Goals are the most important thing, we have to always look for solutions to make goals”, the manager opined. “We have to look for the solutions in our selection, that’s important. Maybe we have solutions elsewhere but that’s more difficult, because in January clubs shall not let go of players who score”.

Hardly encouraging words for supporters who long for an extra striker to ease United’s goal famine. Indeed, the squad would benefit from at least two additions, in attack and defence. Yet, the chances of luring élite talent to M16 in January are small.

In truth an internal solution will have to be found – and United must also factor in a rest for Anthony Martial, who cannot be relied upon for an entire season. The challenge becomes greater still if Rooney returns from an injury lay-off the same player who has defiled pitches up and down the country this season.

Commendably, Van Gaal has largely arrested his side’s defensive troubles this season, albeit a record that came to a halt against Bournemouth and Norwich with injuries taking hold. Defensive solidity is dependent on retaining key personnel such as Chris Smalling. The Londoner has developed wonderfully in the past year, but his record suggests doubts about his ability to stay fit for extended periods.

Managerial merry-go-round

Then there is the question of United’s manager who has indisputably suffered a bad month. The Reds’ mundane football is grudgingly tolerated while results remain acceptable. Ignominious exit from the Champions League, coupled with humiliation against Bournemouth and Norwich, has turned opinion against the Dutchman.

Indeed, United’s slump in form could not have come at a worse time for Van Gaal, with a plethora of world-class coaches suddenly in the shop window. United’s board has lavished praise on the manager, but with José Mourinho out of a job and Pep Guardiola planning a change of scenery, Old Trafford’s suits will surely have noticed a persistent itch in their collective trigger finger.

Should Guardiola decant from Bavaria the clamour for his services will be at its most fervent in Manchester’s blue half. Yet, when Guardiola officially announces his future, United’s board will be left in a precarious situation. Aside from the increasingly unlikely chances of capturing a trophy this season, there is little Van Gaal can do to dissuade fans that the club should ditch him for the enigmatic Spaniard should the opportunity arise.

It is, of course, conjecture at the moment, but losing Guardiola to City would be a watershed moment in Manchester football history, remembered fondly only by those of a blue persuasion. In fact, there is growing consensus that United must mount a pursuit of the former Barcelona boss, lest the club miss out on yet another an élite manager since Ferguson’s retirement.

In that there is recognition the club is in a period of worrying uncertainty – one with an end that may shape the club for the foreseeable future. For the moment Van Gaal is under considerable scrutiny. The only thing the Dutchman can do is to start winning matches.

Finding the United way

December 13, 2015 Tags: , , Opinion 23 comments
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What does Manchester United stand for? The United way. The Arsenal way. The Liverpool way. It is one of the most recognisable clichés in the colourful vocabulary of the football fan. Bandied around in equal measure both in times of prosperity and hardship; supporters will either revel joyously in witnessing the game being played “our way”, or pine for its return amid periods of despair.

Its usage often extends no further than being an attempt to distinguish ones club from another, to establish a stylistic superiority over a perceived inferior rival. Yet, despite becoming a somewhat platitudinous statement, it remains vitally important to fans. And rightly so.

The sheer longevity and success of Sir Alex Ferguson’s 26 year reign at Old Trafford has allowed United to establish this identity in a way seldom witnessed elsewhere. It is not uncommon for the words “empire” or “dynasty” to be used liberally when describing Ferguson’s tenure, and it is because of that unrivalled sense of self that he developed within the club that its sudden disintegration has been all the more pronounced.

It is telling that the biggest critics of Louis van Gaal’s increasingly vague philosophy are those who formed the backbone of the Ferguson era. Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Roy Keane, Rio Ferdinand – these were the players who brought their manager’s vision to life on the pitch, and as much as their negativity has become repetitive, it clearly pains the quartet to watch the club’s ethos fade away.

However, the identity crisis that has now enveloped the club had taken root before Van Gaal, or even David Moyes, arrived. In his twilight years, Ferguson infamously allowed United’s midfield to fall into alarming disrepair, overseeing the departure of Paul Pogba, whilst the likes of Anderson continued to command a considerable wage.

It is also easy to forget that in the final few seasons under the legendary Scot that, despite reaching a Champions League final in 2011, the quality of football on display bore little resemblance to his two truly great sides that won the competition in 1999 and 2008. The euphoria of a 20th league title in 2013 papered over cracks that had been visible for some time. Crucially, though, the drop in the overall calibre of play never precipitated an abandonment of United’s attacking principles.

But Ferguson did choose Moyes as his successor. It was a decision that will be analysed, dissected and analysed again for years to come – forever remembered as the moment that catalysed a chain of events leading United into this period of depressing uncertainty. Perhaps Ferguson saw something of himself in Moyes, a Glaswegian who had paid his dues at Everton over an extended period. It was a romantic notion, but ultimately a misguided one.

Moyes proved woefully inadequate in carrying on the traditions laid down by his illustrious predecessor. Sacked within a year, the idea that he should have been afforded time to grow into the role holds little credibility. Had the former Everton boss maintained even a mildly acceptable standard during his disastrous nine months at the helm then perhaps he would have been deserving of some patience – a seventh place finish fell way below that particular threshold.

It is arguable that achieving the minimum standard is perhaps the only area that currently distinguishes Van Gaal from Moyes. The Dutchman has, to use the phrase of the moment, “steadied the ship”. The issue with that particular analogy is that the majority of United fans have never known their side to be a steady ship, nor do they want it to be. The terraces are used to accompanying their team on swashbuckling adventures, not meandering listlessly from match to match.

Yes, it is undeniable that United needed a period of stabilisation post-Moyes, but a manager of Van Gaal’s pedigree should be providing so much more than is currently on offer. For a man so obsessed with the idea of philosophy, he has shown little regard for the identity of the club that entrusted him with the task of self-rediscovery.

Some have argued that Van Gaal is simply making do with the inadequate tools at his disposal, deploying a conservative system to compensate for the deficiencies in the squad. But is that really an acceptable defence considering the money that has been spent on new players since the Dutchman’s arrival? Despite that eye-watering financial outlay, Van Gaal’s United continues to play a woefully uninspiring brand of football.

Blooding youngsters, such as Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira, is spoilt by the bizarre treatment of others – Adnan Januzaj and James Wilson. United have lacked a player of Januzaj’s directness, and although he would likely be no more than a backup, the lack of goals being scored makes Wilson’s loan move to Brighton & Hove Albion seem more than a little odd.

By all accounts, Van Gaal’s methods encourage a rigid, mechanical style of play – completely at odds with everything that is held traditional at Old Trafford. It is futile to continue longing for the halcyon days under Fergie, as his like will never be seen again, but it is not unreasonable to expect continuity of attacking traditions that he established.

Instead, Van Gaal has become so fixated with dominating possession that scoring a goal has almost become an afterthought. The result has been an exasperating volume of goalless draws, a somewhat alien concept to United fans. The style of play appears the very antithesis of supporters’ perception of the “United way”, and there is a distinct impression that the fluctuating results would be less exasperating if there was simply some modicum of entertainment.

Furthermore, many players simply do not seem suited to Van Gaal’s formulaic approach. Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay will likely never adapt fully to the robotic style of play. It is obviously not in that quartet’s nature and together they possess enough talent that it seems folly to ask them to play in such a fashion.

Whether these players are truly capable of re-establishing United as an attacking force remains to be seen, yet they deserve to at least to have their shackles removed and be permitted to follow more natural attacking instincts once more.

Van Gaal brought United back from the brink of meltdown last season, and for that he should be commended, but for a club of this stature that alone is not enough. There has been a smouldering dissatisfaction among the support this season, tempered only by the club’s promising league position.

However, the disastrous Champions League exit in Wolfsburg has fanned flames of frustration – at just how unrecognisable United has become. Defeat at Bournemouth on Saturday has exacerbated this sentiment. Ironically, the fire that Van Gaal must now surely notice rising steadily beneath him may only be extinguished by throwing his safety first approach out of the window.

In a relatively short space of time United have become a club that has lost sight of itself. The longer the identity crisis continues the harder from which it will be to recover. The “United way” risks becoming nothing more than a memory.

Memphis needs time, but may be swallowed by the world in which he revels

October 31, 2015 Tags: Opinion 13 comments
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Ever wondered what Cristiano Ronaldo eats for breakfast? Follow him on Instagram. Want to win a signed pair of Lionel Messi’s boots? “Like” his Facebook page. How is Rio Ferdinand getting to training in the morning? Check Wayne Rooney’s Twitter feed.

Considering the scrutiny under which top-level players are placed by the media, the level of exposure that they often choose to give to their private lives appears a little self-defeating. Players continually walk a virtual tightrope, and the use of social media has contributed little to counter the age old cliché regarding footballers’ questionable intelligence.

At the other end of the spectrum, the principal location for fan debate has migrated to the online universe, leaving the lager-fuelled analysis of the pub pundit in its wake. Football now has a worldwide forum – open all hours to just about anyone, and unlike down the local, you won’t get sent on your way for being too loud.

The tribal nature of football fans is not diluted in the virtual world, either. If anything, the baiting of rival supporters has reached new heights – or plumbed new depths – in an arena where goading is usually, at worst, met with equally childish retorts until someone decides they are running thin on insults and bails out with a quick press of the “block” button.

It takes significantly less courage to aggravate a rival via Twitter than it does outside a football ground on a Saturday, or to hurl abuse at a struggling player. Therein lies the inherent issue with football and social media.

The internet has become synonymous with knee-jerk reactions and instant, ill-considered, judgement. The football fan of 2015 demands instant results and is often afflicted with the inability to look beyond the present day, no matter how bad a day that may have been.

Players are now one bad performance away from a hammering at the hands of the masses, and more worryingly, the club’s own supporters. The marriage of footballers and fans online was always likely to be a tumultuous one. Yet, some of the comments directed at United players during and after Wednesday’s shock defeat to Middlesbrough, particularly those in the fledgling period of their career, was unbecoming of a club that takes pride in a focus on youth.

Which brings us to Memphis Depay. The 21-year-old from Moodrecht enjoyed a promising start to life in Manchester – catching the eye in preseason and emerging as the key figure in United’s negotiation of the treacherous Champions League third qualifying round, bagging two excellent goals and two assists as United disposed of Club Brugge.

Since then his form has wilted and his confidence appears to have run dry. In recent weeks, Memphis has been consigned to the bench, and in truth, he looks a little shell-shocked.

Predictably, given the player’s lofty price-tag and cocksure personality, the knives are being hastily sharpened in some quarters at the prospect of Memphis following the same path as the previous incumbent in seven – the tepid Angel di Maria.

Thankfully, the fee for which Memphis was acquired from PSV Eindhoven was not as eye-watering as the near £60 million United forked out to bring the sulky Argentine to Manchester – in hindsight, seemingly against his will –  lest he would probably have been flogged in public by now. Yes, United paid a lot of money to sign Memphis, and he undoubtedly arrived with a big reputation, but that does not alter the fact that he is only 21.

Despite being younger than Jesse Lingard, and only slightly older than James Wilson, the early signs are that Memphis will not be afforded the same level of patience and support that the two home-grown talents have enjoyed thus far.

Regardless of cost or weight of expectation, Memphis is a young player – and young players are frustrating. It is an obvious comparison, but if Twitter had reached its nadir when Cristiano Ronaldo was 21, the treatment received by the Portuguese at the hands of the internet hordes would have been similarly fierce.

Ronaldo was the very definition of infuriating. The winger displayed flashes of genius amid extended periods of over-elaboration and poor decision-making, all whilst provoking consternation with a headstrong persona and penchant for the theatrical. In short, social media would have had a field day with Ronaldo. And look how wrong the masses would have been.

Parallels with a young Cristiano in no way show that Memphis will go on to emulate one of Old Trafford’s last true superstars, but the need for United fans to exercise patience with the young Dutchman still rings true.

Memphis may flourish in spite of being labelled as a “fraudster”, an “expensive flop” and an “overhyped tool” by United supporters. The player is, after all, less than half way through a maiden season in England – a league that is notoriously difficult to adapt to, even for the most established star. He possesses the physical attributes to deal with the rough and tumble nature that sets the Premier League apart from other European leagues. There are also signs that Memphis has the ability to turn a game on his own.

Unfortunately it is an era where a primary source of information on foreign talent comes through the medium of video highlight packages or even six second Vine clips. Fans’ expectations often climb to unrealistic heights before the player has even put pen to paper.

Those countless YouTube montages of the winger’s free kick prowess at PSV Eindhoven were undeniably exciting, but they don’t show you the ones that landed in the cheap seats. The skills packages omit the times Memphis ran straight into the defender instead of bamboozling his opponent with some outlandish piece of trickery.

The inevitable result is an illusion – too many fans were expecting Memphis to be the finished article, even if the collective tweet on the day he signed proclaimed that the player would be given time to settle. And time is both what Memphis needs, and what he hasn’t had enough of yet.

The irony of the situation is that Memphis appears to revel in the celebrity that comes hand-in-hand with being a footballer, and social media is a massive part of that. He commands 1.7 million followers on Instagram, and a further 650,000 on Twitter. Yet, it is within this universe that the wolves will come calling, long before Memphis experiences any dissent on the terraces.

The young Dutchman is also a victim of Anthony Martial’s instant success. Martial has swept the Old Trafford faithful off their feet in a way that no one expected, and Memphis’ inability to match the performance level of the Frenchman may have contributed to the rising tide of criticism. The internet loves a hero, and now it is Martial, not Memphis, who is capturing the imagination.

Regardless, any football coach will attest that young players develop at different rates. Some find their game more quickly than others. Given his age, there will likely come a time when Martial struggles too. Will the social media collective vehemently accuse the youngster of fraud after a few poor performances?

Fan reaction on the internet will not be the deciding factor in Memphis’ United career. That will derive from whether the player indeed possess the ability many suspect, coupled with the strength of character required to flourish at a club of United’s size.

Labelling the young man a failure after three months of the season woefully premature; it is also a sad indictment of the modern football fan. Tweet that if you like.

Winter is coming – it’s time to bring Ander Herrera in from the cold

October 15, 2015 Tags: Opinion 19 comments
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Much like fans of a certain character from a certain TV show, Manchester United supporters have been left wondering, in recent weeks, why the often excellent Ander Herrera has been cut down by the powers that be.

As was the case for a popular shaggy haired, sword wielding prodigal son from the world of fiction, Herrera has enjoyed a form of cult status at Old Trafford. Like his television counterpart, it has left many baffled as why Herrera has been dropped from a leading role just when he appeared to be thriving in it.

Tasked with repairing the damage inflicted during the mercifully short David Moyes era, Louis van Gaal’s maiden Old Trafford season was a predictably frustrating affair. Despite the Dutchman delivering on his promise of Champions League football, United’s footballing identity remained conspicuous by its absence – lost amid ever changing team formations and a decidedly mixed, yet eye-wateringly expensive, summer transfer window.

From the outset Herrera looked very much like a United-type player. Despite appearing a little unpolished at times, the Spaniard marries tenacity with technical prowess wonderfully. It immediately endeared him to those on the terraces.

Unfortunately for Herrera, the early weeks of van Gaal’s tenure, in which United flourished in attack, proved to be a red herring. The unspeakable capitulation at Leicester City heralded a change in tack from the Dutch manager, who was wounded when United shipped four goals in 20 minutes. To continue a theme – it could be described as the footballing equivalent of the Red Wedding.

Herrera was sidelined with a rib injury the following week, and despite being rushed back into the fray against West Bromwich Albino, the midfielder was withdrawn at half time as United struggled. Regardless of his continued promise – turning in a man of the match display in the 3-0 victory over Hull City – the midfielder found himself deprived of a starting berth.

The turgid football on show through the middle portion of last season did little to appease exasperated supporters, many of whom felt that Herrera could breathe life into a flat United side. Such was the clamour for his reintroduction that Van Gaal felt compelled to clarify his reasons for continually omitting the £27 million signing from Athletic Bilbao – declaring that Herrera needed to raise his game before he would be considered.

“I have to compare him people like Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata, for example.” Van Gaal explained. “They all have a high level, so he has to improve.”

Herrera did not start a league game between 2 December and 21 February, where he returned to score in the defeat at Swansea City. The Spaniard’s restoration to the starting line-up coincided with United’s best period of the season, with Herrera flourishing alongside fellow countryman Juan Mata, as the Reds swept aside Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester City en route to a top four finish.

Perhaps recalling the exploits of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, the Mata/Herrera partnership roused a United support in need of some on-pitch entertainment. Not only was their pairing exciting to watch, but it was effective too.

Van Gaal’s obsession with positional discipline did not marry well with Herrera’s tendency to roam the pitch, yet pairing him with Mata on the right of United’s midfield removed that element, without inhibiting the Basque’s effectiveness. Such was Herrera’s understanding with his compatriot, that he seemed happy to occupy the right centre-midfield berth. It was almost child-like to watch – akin to two best mates keeping the ball between them on the school pitch – and yet it worked. Tottenham, Liverpool and City all succumbed to a rejuvenated United side, and despite a shaky final few games, the Reds returned to Europe’s top table.

The story of post-Ferguson United has been littered with plot twists – ranging from the fairytale beginnings of Anthony Martial, to the tragedy (or comedy, depending on your persuasion) of Radamel Falcao. In comparison Herrera’s treatment is more of a mystery.

Although the Spaniard was arguably United’s top outfield performer, alongside Ashley Young, following his restoration to the side early in the year, Herrera’s second season in Manchester has adopted a frustrating parallel to his debut year; consistently impressive when given the opportunity, yet still bizarrely confined to the bench.

The arrivals of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, coupled with the continued presence of the evergreen Michael Carrick, has substantially expanded Louis van Gaal’s midfield options. Yet, Herrera offers something entirely different to his teammates, not to mention his telepathic understanding with Juan Mata.

The Spaniard’s exile from the side – and fans’ widespread annoyance with it – bears similarity to the cringe worthy “Free Shinji” campaign, which was launched in response to the perceived unfair treatment of Shinji Kagawa under David Moyes. The Japan international was a rare footballing anomaly in that his reputation seemed to grow with every game in which he did not feature, and shrink when he did.

Kagawa is an undoubtedly talented footballer, yet despite all those deft touches and clever movement, he was rarely a decisive factor throughout the course of a game. The same cannot be said of Herrera.

The 26-year-old from Bilbao possesses all Kagawa’s qualities and more – most crucially his ability to positively influence a match in United’s favour. Kagawa was unable to usurp Wayne Rooney from the number 10 role at United, but the United captain has slipped into a seemingly terminal decline since then, while at 26, Herrera is at his peak.

The Spaniard is not a world class footballer as yet, nor a natural 10, but he has demonstrated his influence as United’s most forward thinking midfielder. For all the Red Devil’s impressive possession statistics, the tip of the attack is often blunt, due in no small part to Rooney’s ineffectiveness. Despite his misgivings, Van Gaal would be well served to allow Herrera to function as the link between the experienced midfield base and the youthful forward line.

As winter approaches, the fixtures will accumulate and United’s title credentials will be given thorough examination – with some considerable foes yet to be met. After the massacre at the Emirates, much focus will be placed on United’s defensive solidity, but offensively Van Gaal’s side was just as lacking. Although a measure of control was regained in the second period, did United ever really look like recovering? Only the most blinkered supporters will say ‘yes’.

Herrera will not repair all of United’s deficiencies, but the Spaniard does not deserve to be left out in the cold while the ailing Rooney clings to his iron throne of immunity.

Winter is coming. It’s time for a change.