The two Manchester United midfielders who could fill the void left by Ander Herrera
Ander Herrera’s departure was a notable one for Manchester United this summer.
The 29-year-old left the Reds on a free transfer to join Paris Saint-Germain after United failed to tie him down on a new contract.
However, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already set out the stall for the two midfielders he expects to replace the Spaniard next season.
In his press conference earlier this week ahead of United’s dominant 4-0 victory over Leeds, the Norwegian boss said “Andy (Pereira) I expect a lot more from, Scotty (McTominay) I expect a lot more from. Those two between them had maybe 15, 20 starts last season. You expect them to have at least 20 each this season, maybe even more. That’s maybe two players into one that can replace Ander.”
But looking into the underlying numbers of Herrera , what will both need to bring to the table in order to replace the void left by his departure?
Often featuring on the right in the centre of midfield for United, Herrera was the definition of the perfect box-to-box player who was involved in both the attacking and defensive phases of play.
He was well known for his technical ability, his close control and low centre of gravity that all made him a salient asset to the side.
The 29-year-old wasn’t a great carrier or runner with the ball, but one of his biggest benefits was his passing ability that often allowed him to find team-mates with an array of different balls in key areas.
Last year, he averaged 55.16 passes per 90 minutes with a pass success rate of nearly 90 per cent – that was the highest pass success rate of any United midfielder.
While his combined goals and assists total of just six looks unremarkable on paper, it is the Spanish international’s influence deeper on the pitch that really stands out.
This was reiterated by his impressive Expected Goals contribution per 90 minutes (xGChain90) average of 0.66. xGChain90 is a complex but impressive metric that measures the xG value of every possession a player is involved in per 90 minutes.
It is a great tool for looking at a player who features deeper on the pitch and quantifying his impact in the early stages of attacking sequences.
His average of 0.66 per 90 minutes in this department last season bettered all other United midfielders, even Paul Pogba who had an average of 0.63.
But how do McTominay and Pereira compare?
Solskjaer has seemingly been a fan of McTominay for some time.
There was interest from a number of clubs to take the Scot on loan in January, however the United boss expressed his desire to keep the midfielder in his first team plans.
It’s a decision that has proved beneficial for Solskjaer and United. A nightmare injury for the ever-reliable Nemanja Matic on the Friday before United’s crunch battle with Liverpool back in February meant McTominay was thrown into to the starting XI for one of their biggest fixtures of the season.
Despite making just his third Premier League start in the campaign, the midfielder put on a robust display and didn’t look out of place sitting in the United midfield.
On the back of his showing, he made a further eight starts for United and became an important figure within the United starting 11.
Across those matches last season, the 22-year-old could boast a pretty solid pass success rate of nearly 89 per cent and averaged just short of 38 passes per 90 minutes. Both fall short when compared to Herrera but notably, not by a lot.
He didn’t really display the same sort of tenacity as Herrera when hunting down the opposition and breaking up their attacking play – he averaged just 3.2 interceptions per 90 minutes compared to Herrera’s impressive average of 6.37.
Although his size advantage did give him the edge over Herrera in terms of aerial duels – he came out on top in 57 per cent compared to the Spanish International’s relatively low average of 33 per cent.
But where does Pereira rank against both players?
The 23-year-old has had to work a little bit harder for his break at Old Trafford.
After two back-to back season-long loan moves in Spain, he returned last summer but managed just 667 league minutes over the course of the season. However, he did become somewhat of a more prominent figure in the latter states of the campaign.
Positionally, he is less of a like for like replacement for Herrera compared to McTominay, but this is down to his versatile skill set that can see him play across several different areas on the pitch.
The Brazilian also isn’t as accurate in his passing, averaging a success rate of 85 per cent last season.
However, he does prove to have much quicker feet in the dribble – he made an average of 1.68 successful dribbles per 90 minutes last season. For comparison, neither Herrera or McTominay averaged more than one successful dribble per 90 minutes.
This meant in the middle of the pitch under pressure, he illustrated the ability to dart away from challenges and drive his team forward.
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The above contributed to him posting an xGChain90 average of 0.49. Whilst it falls short of Herrera’s average of 0.66, it bettered McTominay’s average of 0.37.
He also bettered McTominay in terms of reading the game and intercepting the ball, averaging 4.53 interceptions per 90 minutes.
Overall, the above illustrates that as individuals both McTominay and Pereira can replicate some of Herrera’s best attributes, but perhaps not yet match them. However, both players do compliment each other in bringing different strengths to the midfield.
McTominay boasts a slick ball playing ability similar to Herrera, whilst Pereira demonstrates some real fleet-footedness in the middle of the pitch.
Both players combined can certainly ease some of that blow felt by Herrara’s departure next season, just like Solkjaer has suggested.