For Manchester United fans, the signing of Ander Herrera was not only a positive omen for addressing the ongoing issues in United’s midfield, but also a positive indication of moving forward. In Sir Alex Ferguson’s last few seasons, it had become clear central midfield was the area which needed the biggest improvement. Not only that, the general consensus was post-Fergie, the team would need an improvement in style as well.
After their failed pursuit of the Spanish midfielder two summers ago, Manchester United finally got their man. Although some would describe his price tag as hefty, it didn’t take long for United fans to see how good he is. Not only is he adept in his off-the-ball movements, quick one-two touch passing and directing play; he has a great nose for goal, is aggressive in his tackles, and is an excellent presser, especially right after the possession is lost.
However, this article will mainly focus on why he’s the epitome of the ‘pass and move’ midfielder.
‘Pass and Move’ midfielder qualities:
Before we start, I’d like to highlight some qualities which I think ‘pass and move’ midfielders exemplify.
- Strategic decision making – making decisions which best benefit the interactions between teammates and act accordingly to game dynamics
- Understanding of game dynamics (e.g. tempo,rhythm, positioning relative to opposition, game flow) and teammates’ movements relative to his own
- Weighting of passes
- Anticipating the open space as well as creating open spaces for teammates to exploit
These are also the type of midfielders, who help maintain good attacking structure because they orient their positioning to maintain passing triangles, good passing angles and open spaces for others. Another way to think of this is an overall contribution to the collective/dynamic or progress within a system.
An excellent reference point for Manchester United fans would be Paul Scholes, who always seemed a step ahead of everyone else.
To further complement the qualities listed above, below are some key characteristics I think a ‘pass and move’ midfielder should have let alone any central midfield player.
- Looking over the shoulder
- Maintaining good field of vision
- Timing of runs into space
- Body position
- Quick release upon receiving pass/changing direction of attack
- Maintaining passing angles (requires tactical discipline)
- Opening spaces/passing lanes via off the ball movement
- directing teammates with gestures
Herrera has shown these qualities in various games this season. His most standout performance, however, came when he was introduced into the game against Hull as a substitute for Angel Di Maria. From the first moment he collected the ball, he was superb.
Understanding teammates’ movements
In the first picture, Herrera pops up (bottom right) as Mata receives and turns with the ball. Here, Herrera sees the open space, moves into it and then in the second picture, with one quick turn of his body shifts the ball out wide. The main components Herrera showcases here is an understanding of his teammates’ movements (Mata in this case), timing the run into space and then quickly shifting his body to change the direction of attack.
Since we know the game already moves at a quick pace, it’s important to execute these fundamentals quickly which Herrera does very well.
Here, Herrera takes a quick look over his shoulder before checking to the ball. In addition, his run into space offers Valencia an outlet without having to recycle possession through a center back or deeper midfielder. While doing so wouldn’t be a bad option, Herrera making himself available allows for possession to be maintained in the attacking third.
It’s this type of strategic decision making, which can easily go unnoticed.
Herrera’s magnificent anticipation
One of Paul Scholes’ greatest attributes was being a step or two ahead of everyone else. In the following situation, Herrera demonstrates quite well.
Young has just flicked the ball over a Hull defender and proceeds to move down the wing. Hull have two players looking to close down Young with a wide overload. Herrera has already noticed what’s going to happen and begins to drift left in case Young needs a teammate available for the reverse pass.
Now, Young has to make a decision to either keep dribbling or play a reverse pass to Herrera who’s waiting in space.
Right before he’s closed down, Young decides to make the reverse pass (taking both Hull players out of the situation) to Herrera who uses Carrick (outside of the picture) as a means to keep up the overall tempo of this build-up phase while moving into space for the next build-up phase.
In this build up-phase, Rooney has just received a pass from Carrick and now passes back to Herrera, who has just moved into space in anticipation of the next move.
In two touches, Herrera shifts his body and plays a pass to Valencia, switching the direction of attack. While this all may seem very minute, it’s these small details, which help maintain good passing rhythm and shape throughout build-up play.
Opening spaces for others
As previously mentioned, Herrera is adept at anticipating where the open spaces will be and moving into them. Before checking to the ball, he makes a quick glance to his left as Fellaini is on the right flank. Hence, when he receives the ball, he will already know of Fellaini’s position and how to orient his own body position to quickly turn and pass to Fellaini.
As Herrera passes the ball to Fellaini, he makes a diagonal run to the flank in between the fullback and center back. The significance of this decision is it gives Fellaini more time on the ball as Hull’s backline moves back (the fullback retreats in reaction to Herrera’s run).
Although not seen in the picture, Herrera made a gesture towards Fellaini as if he was expecting the return pass which distracted Hull’s backline even further as the fullback reacted to Herrera’s run as if he was going to receive the return pass. Instead, Fellaini, chose to cross but the key in this situation is Herrera’s run gave Fellaini more time to make the decision.
In hindsight, Fellaini could have dribbled diagonally opposite to Herrera’s run in which he would be taking up the space Herrera just vacated.
Weight of passing
Putting the right weight on a pass is so essential to keeping passing moves alive, setting up a teammate well for a shot or causing the opposition to shift their organization. It’s one area which Herrera can improve but in the following situation, the passing weight is just right.
Herrera combines all aspects, which have been talked about previously (strategic decision making, understanding teammates’ movements, anticipating open spaces). The GIF below (courtesy of BeautifullyRed) exemplifies each. It’s a passing move you will definitely enjoy!
Notice how Herrera turns his body around just before Rooney receives the pass from Carrick and then sets his feet up for the one touch pass to van Persie. That, ladies and gentlemen is just one of the many reasons, why Ander Herrera is the archetypal ‘pass and move’ midfielder.
Thanks to socceracme for this informative piece.