Ander Herrera: Top four over Europa League for Manchester United
The midfielder insists the Red Devils must qualify for the Champions League through their domestic position rather than relying on European football
Securing a top-four spot in the Premier League and a return to Champions League football next season is a greater priority than Europa League glory for Manchester United, according to midfielder Ander Herrera.
Jose Mourinho’s in-form side face Ligue 1 outfit Saint-Etienne in the first leg of their last-32 clash in Europe’s secondary competition next week.
United were edged into fifth by rivals Manchester City last season and, although the Europa League victors now automatically progress to the subsequent Champions League, Spain international Herrera is keen to re-establish the Old Trafford side in the top four.
“We are in good form, but we want to be in the top four as soon as possible,” said Herrera, speaking at the launch of the TAG Heuer Manchester United Watch Collection at Old Trafford.
“Of course we have to be in the top four, but we also have three titles to play for.
“We will not be 100 per cent happy if we are fourth, though, because we want to finish as high as possible, but minimum we have to be in the top four and then fight for the rest of the titles.
“The Europa League is another door to the Champions League, this is true, but we want to get it through the league. But of course, it is another door for us.”
United host Watford on Saturday, bolstered by a 15-match unbeaten run in the league – a far cry from the choppy waters they negotiated earlier on in Mourinho’s reign, which included a chastening 3-1 defeat against the same opponents at Vicarage Road.
It is an indication of the fierce competition among England’s leading clubs this season that they remain two points behind Arsenal in sixth, but Herrera, who arrived at United at the start of Louis van Gaal’s reign two and a half years ago, is relishing the challenge and thriving under Mourinho.
“My first two seasons here, I played 71 games, so it’s not a bad number of games,” he said. “But, of course, I cannot lie, this is the time I am enjoying most at Man United.
“Our manager is helping me a lot, but I have done it by myself as well.
“I think all of you have seen that since the beginning of the season in a few games, my role changes. He has helped me a lot to get the knowledge about that role.
“I am so happy to be a bit more of a defensive player than last season. I can share my energy with the team in that position and I am very happy.
“He is helping me a lot, but not only me. The team is playing very good.
“I am playing now, I am getting a lot of minutes – I think I’m the fourth in the team in terms of minutes. But if one day the manager decides to put me on the bench, I will be ready to help the team from the bench. It’s our job.
“We represent the greatest club in England so we cannot be selfish. We have to try to help the team.”