FEATURE | What can Manchester United expect from Casemiro?

Manchester United have been crying out for a defensive midfielder for a long time, and with new signing Casemiro, they will be getting their hands on one of the world’s very best. But what exactly can the Old Trafford faithful expect from the Brazilian?

One of United’s major weaknesses has been in defensive transitions and how easily opposition teams have been able to navigate through their midfield without much resistance. Casemiro is a sizeable upgrade on Scott McTominay in countering this issue. The 30-year-old is arguably the most accomplished ball-winner on the planet, and boasts the most successful tackles completed in Europe’s top five leagues over the previous five seasons (2017/18 onwards). Casemiro is excellent at breaking down play, regularly ranking among La Liga and the world’s elite in interceptions, blocks and tackling statistics.

Whether it is sensing and cutting off danger or harrowing down the opposition’s trequartista for the whole 90, there are few, if any, who do it quite as well and in quite as fearsome a manner as Casemiro. Be it Lionel Messi or Kevin De Bruyne, Casemiro has won the midfield battle against Europe’s geniuses multiple times.

Casemiro, however, does not solve all of United’s problems. Perhaps an issue equally as worrying for the Red Devils as the aforementioned lack of defensive presence is that of progression. At Real Madrid, Casemiro had the esteemed company of Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić to help out in progression. At Old Trafford, he will not have a partner quite as good as those two.

Both Fred and McTominay are not up to the required standard among the cream of the crop of the Premier League. While Casemiro is likely an upgrade on both in this regard as well, his numbers in ball progression don’t stand out quite as much as his defensive ones, and he is rather inconsistent in possession.

Erik ten Hag’s systems at Ajax have thrived on a double pivot consisting of a defensive-minded ‘6’ and a dynamic comrade alongside to assist in transition from midfield to attack. In United’s utopia, they have also acquired the much sought-after Frenkie de Jong to partner Casemiro. De Jong’s quality to invite and evade pressure, progressing from deep, is a quality unmatched by anyone else in world football. In essence, he would have been United’s ideal signing.

But it is not all sour in that regard. Casemiro would not need to adjust to playing alongside his compatriot Fred. The Brazil national team has employed the very duo of Fred and Casemiro for some time now, winning 13 of the 15 games the pair have started together. Neither Scott McTominay nor Fred is a natural holding midfielder, which has heavily limited the freedom of players such as Bruno Fernandes and more recently Christian Eriksen. An improved defensive presence in the form of Casemiro could give not only Fred but also the rest of United’s midfield the scope to be more industrious. It could, if it works out to perfection, unlock Eriksen’s really good qualities on the ball to their full potential.

Lastly, Casemiro’s goalscoring threat is an often overlooked aspect of his game. The midfielder boasts a potent shot from range, and as seen in Zinedine Zidane’s final season at the Santiago Bernabéu, he also possesses the offensive instincts to become an uncanny goalscorer if utilised in such a role.

Having already entered the wrong side of 30, there is plenty of reason to debate that Casemiro’s decision to leave a league and Champions League-winning double side to join Manchester United is purely for financial reasons. Possibly the lure of the Premier League or the presence of his old colleagues Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphaël Varane have motivated him. Irrespective, he solves a bunch of Manchester United’s problems from the get-go, while providing the world-class quality of someone who was Man of the Match in the UEFA Super Cup less than two weeks ago.

Real Madrid and La Liga will miss the cold-blooded smiling assassin, that’s for sure.


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