Ander Herrera has made an impressive start to his Manchester United career, and he is already playing a vital role in the side.
While Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao have, understandably, grabbed the headlines, Herrera and his midfield partner Daley Blind have made a huge impact on United’s play, both with and without the ball.
It has been some time since United have had such a functional midfield. As Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at the club drew towards its close, he seemed to develop something of a blind spot to the centre of the park.
Paul Scholes’ return from retirement in 2012 was, for sentimental reasons, lovely to see. However, that he was still needed, considerably past his prime, clearly showed that his long-required successor had not yet been found.
Although Michael Carrick’s fine 2011/12 season led to the Stretford End striking up repeated choruses of his song, which compared him favourably to his midfield colleague, the truth is, with Carrick, it was very easy to believe it was not Scholes.
Carrick’s strengths are in his short passing and his defensive positioning, rather than in his chance creation and goalscoring, the two things Paul Scholes did best.
Herrera, on the other hand, looks more able to fill the Scholes role. In his four games for the club so far he has scored twice and provided an assist. His goalscoring form is pleasing, given that he was not prolific during his time at Athletic Bilbao.
Scholes’ goalscoring slowed down towards the end of his career, but during his pomp he regularly contributed goals to United’s cause. He scored 155 in his 718 appearances for the club.
Scholes’ goals did, of course, have a tendency to be spectacular, and it seems unlikely that Herrera can match the "Ginger Prince" for 25-yard volleys.
However, where he may well be a match for Scholes is in chance creation. It is very early days in his career at United, but he is averaging over a key pass per game. This would seem to be sustainable, given he averaged 1.6 per game for Bilbao last season.
Although Scholes may be a natural comparison as they are both attack-minded midfielders, there is another bona fide Manchester United legend to whom I have heard more than one fan compare Herrera.
Bryan Robson is a player whose name feels almost heretical to invoke, given his place in the pantheon of United greats. However, Herrera’s style has brought "Captain Marvel" to mind.
Scholes’ contributions to United’s defensive cause were often derided, given his proclivity for late challenges. However, Robson is remembered as much for his work without the ball as he is for his many goals.
The game has, of course, changed profoundly since Robson’s day, but Herrera’s tigerish midfield determination is reminiscent of the United great.
He is currently averaging 3.5 tackles per game, the highest of any United player, as well as 1.5 interceptions, 1.3 clearances and 0.8 blocks. It is thus clear that his defensive responsibilities are not hampering his attacking contribution, as they did not with Robson.
Where the Scholes comparisons become relevant again are when Herrera’s technical ability is considered. He, like Scholes, uses the ball with purpose. He shares Scholes’ wonderful vision for a pass.
Watching Scholes waiting to receive the ball was an education. What was most noticeable was that his head was always moving, constantly rebuilding his picture of where players were on the pitch. Herrera shares that habit.
In truth, Paul Scholes’ role at United went beyond that of a player. He was part of the fabric of the club, a local lad who worked his way through the ranks to become one of the finest midfielders in the world.
Herrera can never replicate that but in terms of becoming an iconic attacking midfielder, whose presence is vital to United’s success, he has every chance. If he maintains his early form, it seems inevitable that he one day will.
All statistics per WhoScored.com