Andreas Pereira has raised a few eyebrows following his fruitful pre-season and starting place against Leicester. The opportunity was partially created by Nemanja Matic’s enforced absence as he gradually recovers from an abdominal injury. While the young Brazilian has been highly rated for some time in United’s ranks, his pathway to the first team seemed blocked.
Only two years ago Ander Herrera was in blistering form as he won the fans’ Player of the Year award, but has since fallen way out of favour despite his phenomenal work rate. Scott McTominay was named by Jose Mourinho as his Manager’s Player of the Year this summer after a breakthrough campaign.
Pereira, Matic, Herrera or McTominay?
The question is, who should anchor the midfield? Pereira has patiently knuckled down out on loan in La Liga mostly as an attacking midfielder. In the United States, however, he emerged as a holding player to great success, creating a pleasant headache for Mourinho.
Although there is precious little data to analyse Pereira’s performance as a number six, we have drawn statistics from last season to compare the four main candidates to fill the role.
One key weakness as a team last year was the lack of pace and incision in the middle. Matic was widely hailed as the perfect foil for Paul Pogba for his dominance in front of the defence, and his early games backed up the confidence shown in him. As the season wore on, however, his passing became more horizontal, while his forward bursts with the ball became less and less frequent. His high pass completion rate of 88% was more a reflection of his low-risk choices.
Ander Herrera and Scott McTominay’s identical pass completion rate is a mild indicator of the similar roles Mourinho gave them. McTominay’s small data sample makes his entry less clear in this direct comparison. On the other hand, the fact that the vast majority of his minutes – including all but one of his starts – came from March onwards offer a slight extra weight to his stats.
The young Scot comes out with the highest percentage of duels won at 54.55% per 90 minutes. That Matic comes next with just over 50% is not a surprise, but what is interesting is that Pereira trumps the snarling Herrera in this area.
Not only does the Spaniard’s combative style lend itself to physical duels, but Pereira spent his season as a far more advanced player in a slower-paced league. Against Leicester, Pereira won five out of 11 duels – consistent with his data from last season – and made three interceptions.
Key Passes & Forward Passes
The direction of passes is a cause for concern. Failing to break lines or defensive blocks slows the play down so that opposition can regroup and defend. Pereira’s forward pass percentage of just 17.20% is attributable to his deployment further up the field. However, his outlook as a naturally attack-minded player means his vision for threading more forward passes could prove crucial.
McTominay lags behind Matic (49.76%) and Herrera (45.11%) considerably. Mitigating circumstances include his freshness in the side and subsequent lack of swaggering confidence. It could suggest that his more methodical approach won’t aid a much-needed injection of pace to United’s play.
Key passes per 90 minutes is a statistic that one must approach with a caveat regarding Pereira’s positioning. His 1.42 key passes is exactly double that of Matic, with Herrera not far behind the Serb with 0.66. This is an obvious consequence of where he played. He was, however, playing in a competitive Valencia side that spent almost the entire season in the Champions League places. He was also far from a regular; only 12 starts, punctured by two injuries, meant his longest stretch of starts was five matches. McTominay managed just 0.16 key passes – a sign of his style but also his inexperience.
As for who should take the place in the side, it depends on what approach Mourinho wants. He will almost certainly revert to his Serbian general once he returns from fitness. Without him, however, Pereira has a real chance to at least secure his place higher up the pecking order. Matic and Herrera have very similar statistics other than duels won. For a purely defensive option, the former would shade the choice. For a more mobile and adventurous midfield unit, Pereira would be the logical choice.