The Spanish midfielder played a starring role in Manchester United’s opening day 3-1 win over Bournemouth but has since been relegated to the substitute’s bench.
Atkinson, however, thinks that Herrera receives unfair criticism and is in favour of selecting the former Athletic Bilbao in the Red Devils’ midfield.
“I think he’s the one who sometimes – not only this year, last year or the year before – he carries the can a little bit. He’d be one of my first choices,” Atkinson told Kick Off on talkSPORT.
“[He has] great energy, [a] great attitude, [he] competes. He came on in the [Manchester] City derby when they were completely outclassed in the first half and was a big factor in the way the game changed. He won a lot of balls; he got around people’s feet, busied people.
“It’s ever so easy picking someone else’s team, but he’d be one of my starting players – I’d play him quite a lot.”
One player keeping Herrera out of the side is Wayne Rooney. The England captain has played virtually every minute of United’s Premier League fixtures but was particularly ineffective in Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Watford.
Rooney is currently four goals away from breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 249 goals for the club but has operated in a deep-lying midfield role so far this season.
But Atkinson believes that Rooney can still be effective if he is played in a more natural advanced role.
“I think Rooney can play anywhere. He’s not at the top of the range at the moment, but the commodity he’s got – and it’s the hardest thing in football – he can score a goal.
“I would have him playing somewhere within range of the opposition goal as much as possible. He can drop out, he spent a long time there last year playing as the central midfield player spraying the ball about – he can do that.
“I think in a year or two’s time – if he wanted to – he could play centre-half. He’s a football player.
“But at the moment, they’ve got to get him back to the form where he’s can score goals. He’s England’s leading scorer, he will break United’s record, but you don’t want players like that 50-yards from the opposition’s goal.”