When Angel di Maria pulled up holding his hamstring yesterday, fans immediately feared the worst. As it turned out, Louis van Gaal took the Argentinian off straight away so as to not aggravate any problem and there has been no suggestion of a serious injury.
There’s no doubt Di Maria has been one of Manchester United’s best players this year but losing him early on against Hull was more a blessing in disguise than a hindrance because his withdrawal allowed the introduction of Ander Herrera.
The Spaniard’s return to the team was glorious. He deservedly won Man of the Match for his role in United’s most comfortable victory this season and the fact of the matter is that the game against Hull would have been completely different had Di Maria never been injured.
When used in a central midfield role, Di Maria’s prerogative as a player is to attack at pace, meaning he can sometimes leave a space in behind him. Conversely, Herrera’s natural instinct is simply to find a player in space and keep the ball moving.
That was reflected in United’s domination of possession against Hull, they simply couldn’t get near the ball. With Herrera working in tandem alongside Carrick, United were never short of passing options and were able to maintain control for the whole game.
Another thing Herrera’s introduction did was provide Louis van Gaal with the balance he craved. United were rarely stretched and always had bodies available to shut out the space if Hull were in possession.
Of course, Hull were very passive and allowed United too much space which certainly made the job easier but it still had to be done. Too many times this season United have enjoyed a very strong first half but have taken their eye off the ball in the second which has allowed the opposition back in the game. There was no sign of that against Hull.
With Herrera back in the team, United played their best football since the 4-0 win over QPR back in September, a game in which Herrera scored and played the full 90 minutes. It’s no coincidence United have been at their best when Herrera has played.
The Spaniard has been a joy to watch when fit and although Di Maria’s injury was a real blow, the fact United didn’t miss him at all is indicative of how influential Herrera was and how important he will be to United over the upcoming festive period.