Manchester United knew they were getting one of the best midfield anchors in the game when they signed Casemiro – that’s why they were willing to pay Real Madrid €70m for him. At the time, this looked to be an inflated fee for a player who had entered his 30s and perhaps the twilight of his career. Now, though, the transfer fee represents a bargain.
Casemiro has made a profound impact on Erik ten Hag’s team. Not since the days of Roy Keane have United boasted a defensive midfielder of such pedigree with Casemiro now one of the most important players at Old Trafford. However, the 30-year-old is much more than just a midfield anchor.
Some Manchester United fans have been surprised by just how integral Casemiro has become to their team’s attack, both directly and indirectly. The Brazilian has now scored four times for the Old Trafford outfit this season with his brace against Reading helpful in guiding United through to the fifth round of the FA Cup.
He is a threat in the air and is capable of finding the back of the net from outside the box, as he did in the 3-1 victory over Reading. But Casemiro is also crucial to the way Manchester United construct attacks from deep. He is a better passer of the ball than many gave him credit for before his move to the Premier League.
“We know he’s a great player and that midfield at Real Madrid, with Kroos and Modric, it was great,” said ten Hag when asked to assess the impact made by Casemiro since joining United. “He’s capable of that [scoring goals]. We see him as a part of it offensively and he enjoys it as well, when he can come [into] it.”
“What I like is dynamic football with variations, with many positional switches so we have to make the opponent think so that we can take the benefit of it. Casemiro is magnificent. In front of the back line, always taking good positions, in and out of position. And he can deal with the ball, he can give the right pass. So, he can accelerate the game and if necessary, he can score.”
Of Manchester United’s regular starters this season, only Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen are averaging more key passes per 90 minutes than Casemiro. Marcus Rashford, who has scored nine goals in his last 10 games, in particular has benefited from the supply line now offered to him by the 30-year-old – Casemiro is adept at timing his passes in behind opposition defences.
United’s midfield still isn’t complete. The summer addition of Casemiro and Eriksen has given Ten Hag’s central unit a more rounded look, but the Dutch coach is still likely to target a natural ball carrier at the end of the season – this is the role Ten Hag wanted Frenkie de Jong to perform for his new team.
Casemiro is able to hold his own in tight spaces, but he doesn’t often dribble past multiple opponents like de Jong does. This is a quality ten Hag wants to help create overloads in the attacking third and add more goals to his team. Manchester United must find a figure who can perform this role.
For the time being, though, United fans can enjoy watching a player who is very much a master of his trade. Manchester United are a better team for the €70m they handed to Real Madrid last summer. Casemiro is setting a new standard for defensive midfielders and redefining the role in terms of what qualities he offers on the pitch.