Manchester United are once again facing an unwanted period of separation from their talisman. Midfield heartbeat Casemiro was sent off against Southampton at the weekend, his second red card in three league games. The infringement will see the Brazil international miss four domestic matches, with Red Devils supporters only able to glimpse their transformative anchorman in Europa League competition.
The statistics are there for all to see, and they make for grim reading if you’re a United fan. Erik ten Hag’s side have won 60% of the games in which Casemiro has started, compared to 54.5% without him in the XI. They have 1.07 goals a game on average with the midfielder starting and 1.72 per match when he doesn’t start. There are countless other metrics in which the Old Trafford club are better off with Casemiro in their starting lineup.
This differential makes complete sense. After all, what team would not be improved by the addition of a five-time Champions League winner? Casemiro’s importance has surpassed even his lofty CV, with pundits who wrote him off due to his age quick to eat their words. Despite being 31 and reportedly extremely well-paid, Casemiro has come to Old Trafford to work. Unfortunately, he has been throwing himself a little too bodily into that work as of late.
Since Roy Keane left Old Trafford under a Fergie-inflicted cloud and headed for a Celtic Park swansong, United’s lack of an heir has been commonly-cited. Anderson was too lax. Alan Smith was miscast. Michael Carrick was technically brilliant but too languid to replace Keane’s snarl. Scott McTominay and Marouane Fellaini were too forward-thinking, Fred and Nemanja Matic weren’t forward-thinking enough. United’s holding midfield berth has been an albatross for as long as anyone can remember.
Casemiro was not even Ten Hag’s initial choice to fill the club’s problem position. Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong had been sought, having worked with his prospective new head coach at Ajax. The sanguine playmaker is even further in profile from Keane than most of his successors, and his pursuit was seen as an indicator of a momentum shift. But De Jong could not and would not come to terms on a Camp Nou exit. So Ten Hag looked elsewhere.
In Casemiro, he found perhaps the best pure defensive midfielder on the planet. The Brazilian brings bite, might and brilliance in the centre of the park. As likely to break up play with a well-timed slide as he is to kickstart an attack with a defence-splitting through-ball. Recent run-ins with the footballing law aside, his brains have been as vital to the Old Trafford revival as his brawn.
But don’t discount the importance of Casemiro’s physical presence. After all, Keane’s willingness to play on the edge was one of the most lamented elements of his departure. Carrick was excellent while others, like Own Hargreaves, have performed sporadically. But no one in between the Irishman and the Brazilian has brought that same physicality, fear factor and even a dose of good old fashioned intimidation.
It can come back to bite you. It certainly did with Keane, the Alf-Inge Haaland incident is testament to that. Casemiro’s current mire of seemingly-constant suspensions is negatively impacting the player and his team too. But is it a necessary evil? Given the fact United have just lifted their first trophy in six years and are chasing down two more, you’d have to say it is. Casemiro, along with Lisandro Martinez, has significantly raised the ceiling for this Manchester United side. The time he spends suspended isn’t ideal, but the fact remains that Casemiro elevates this team in a way few others could manage.
There will be more suspensions. Some, like this current four-game run, will arrive during crucial periods. But when Casemiro’s time in United red is up, it seems likely that the good he did will outweigh the bad. That was certainly true of Keane, his closest recent equivalent. Some players just play on the edge and that’s all there is to it.
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