Casemiro emerging as Man Utd's most important signing of the post-Ferguson era

By Sports Desk January 13, 2023

Erik ten Hag's arrival at Manchester United last year began a process of culture reset. For years, the club allowed big egos to inflate, and the team's mentality to shrink, while an arrogant hierarchy seemingly assumed waving big cheques guaranteed success.

Ten Hag has taken steps to fix all of the above, and in the roughly eight months since he began working in May, the difference has been significant.

"There was no spirit," Ten Hag said last week. "I saw no team dynamic in the squad. The mental resilience was very low. I saw that as an outsider – and also noticed it in my first weeks at the club.

"I looked at the culture of the club. I asked, 'how did Manchester United become great?'. The club has bought an unimaginable number of players in recent years who have not been good enough. Most purchases have been average – and at United average is not good enough. United's shirt weighs heavily."

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and you can't say Ten Hag's impact has come without "waving big cheques". But the problem with previous eras was how the money was spent.

Casemiro, who cost £60million, is the prime example. At 30 years old, there's no doubt some fans were unsure he was the man to reinvigorate a midfield that had quite literally been a problem for over a decade, but he's been exceptional and a big part of United's transformation.

From slow start to key man

Saturday's Manchester derby will be a true litmus test of not only United's progress under Ten Hag, but also the influence Casemiro has.

Let's not forget, City crushed United 6-3 at the start of October. Pep Guardiola's men were even 6-1 up for about 11 minutes before a late Anthony Martial double.

Their midfield of Scott McTominay, Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes simply couldn't handle City's dynamism, and then Erling Haaland and Phil Foden were irresistible in front of goal.

That was, unsurprisingly, the last game before Casemiro took ownership of the holding midfield role at United. Casemiro has played 1,330 minutes across all competitions since, second only to Fernandes (1,349), while Scott McTominay has managed just 439.

Over the same period, only Newcastle United (24) have claimed more points than the Red Devils (23) in the Premier League, with November's 3-1 reverse at Aston Villa their sole defeat.

Of course, it's difficult to attribute United's improvement to Casemiro alone, but there's no doubt his effective blend of destructiveness and creative subtlety have made Ten Hag's midfield a completely different proposition.

Not only is he so adept at reading the game and snuffing out attacks, Casemiro's long-underrated technical abilities suit Ten Hag's style of play down to the ground.

More than meets the eye

Anyone who regularly watched Real Madrid during Casemiro's long stay will have already known there's more to him than simply kicking people. Admittedly, frequent viewers of arguably the most popular team on Earth is hardly a niche group, yet there was certainly a lack of awareness from fans and pundits alike regarding Casemiro's 'other' talents when he joined United.

Because Ten Hag wants his team to generally dictate possession, players without excellent technique will stick out like a sore thumb, which is presumably one explanation for Aaron Wan-Bissaka featuring so irregularly until the past couple of weeks.

The fact Casemiro has become so influential speaks volumes.

Every 90 minutes he averages 6.3 involvements in open-play passing sequences that end in a shot, a record bettered by only five central midfielders in the Premier League this term (min. 500 minutes), including more recognised creators like Fernandes (7.3) and Kevin De Bruyne (8.0).

Additionally, just five players in the entire league (min. 500 minutes) have been involved in more shot-ending build-up sequences (48) without creating or taking the shot. Both of these highlight how central Casemiro's playmaking skills are from his deeper role, even if he's not necessarily the one playing the key pass.

But he is proving extremely effective without the ball as well, and his powers of ball recovery combined with smart distribution make him such an asset, with only Rodri (32, from 1,391 minutes played) initiating more shot-ending open-play sequences after winning possession than Casemiro (22, from 979 minutes played).

It's arguably that hard-working, destructive nature that makes him so refreshing for United, though. The only other central midfielder they've had over the past 15 years who has recorded at least three tackles and eight duel wins (3.8 and 8.1) on a 90-minute basis over a season is Marouane Fellaini in 2013-14 (3.1 and 9.3) and 2016-17 (3.0 and 10.8).

Fellaini's stats will be boosted by his aerial effectiveness, and obviously the Belgian never had the same technical grasp Casemiro has, with his two brilliant passes in the build up to Marcus Rashford's goals in the EFL Cup win over Charlton Athletic earlier this week prime examples of his class in that respect.

He's probably the most complete midfielder they've had since Roy Keane, and the fact Ten Hag so emphatically filled a void that's been gaping throughout the post-Alex Ferguson era is proof enough of the manager's culture shift at Old Trafford.

Beating City will be another major statement.

Related items

  • Al-Riyadh 2-2 Al-Nassr: Laporte sent off for punch as Al-Nemer salvages point Al-Riyadh 2-2 Al-Nassr: Laporte sent off for punch as Al-Nemer salvages point

    Former Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte was sent off for punching Mohammed Al-Aqel on the arm as Al-Nassr played out a 2-2 draw with Al-Riyadh in the Saudi Pro League.

    Meshari Al-Nemer's 97th-minute strike salvaged a point for Al-Nassr, who had trailed for over half the game and played with a one-man disadvantage for over half an hour.

    Otavio had put Al-Nassr ahead only for Andre Gray to drag the hosts level, before Al-Aqel gave David Ospina no chance with a terrific overhead kick to make it 2-1.

    Al-Nassr's position was put in further jeopardy when Laporte was sent off following a bizarre off-the-ball incident which saw him grab and punch Al-Aqel on the elbow, while Cristiano Ronaldo came up with a glaring miss from Sadio Mane's pass across the six-yard box.

    Al-Nemer levelled at the death for Al-Nassr, though they still sit some 14 points adrift of champions Al-Hilal, who could complete an unbeaten season against Al-Wehda on Monday.

    Data Debrief: Laporte's horror show

    It was a game to forget for Laporte, whose bizarre punch on Al-Aqel put Al-Nassr up against it versus a team still in danger of relegation.

    Laporte did not attempt a single tackle in the game while his four duels contested were the joint-fewest of every outfield starter (alongside Khalid Al-Shuwayyi). He was also sent off in Al-Nassr's AFC Champions League quarter-final tie against Al Ain in March.

  • Man Utd without injured Maguire for FA Cup final Man Utd without injured Maguire for FA Cup final

    Manchester United defender Harry Maguire will miss Saturday's FA Cup final clash with Manchester City, Red Devils boss Erik ten Hag has confirmed. 

    Maguire has been sidelined since suffering a muscle injury in training earlier in May, with the timeframe for his recovery estimated at around three weeks.

    That meant he always faced an uphill battle to make Saturday's showpiece game at Wembley Stadium, though he was included in England's preliminary Euro 2024 squad on Tuesday.

    At Thursday's pre-match press conference, Ten Hag confirmed Maguire will not be available but said Victor Lindelof, Mason Mount and Anthony Martial are in contention after being pictured in training.

    "Harry Maguire is unavailable but the rest, all the players you mentioned, I think they are available," the Dutchman said when asked for a team news update.

    "We have our final training tomorrow and then we have final decisions to make. But, as I oversee it now, it looks good."

    Asked if Maguire's chances of featuring at the Euros were in doubt, Ten Hag said: "I don't think so. It's just he doesn't make it [the final]. It didn't heal as we expected."

    Fellow centre-backs Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane are expected to be available, with the latter set to leave United on a free transfer after the final.

    United have lost 19 games and conceded 84 goals in all competitions this season. They last lost 20 in a campaign in 1973-74 (22) and last conceded more than 84 goals in 1963-64 (89).

    Ten Hag's position has been called into question throughout their miserable campaign, with reports on Thursday suggesting Ipswich Town's Kieran McKenna was a target for the Jim Ratcliffe regime.

    Ten Hag, however, says the opportunity to win a second major trophy in as many seasons is his only focus.  

    "It's all about trophies," he said. "We have a huge opportunity to win a trophy. 

    "In the last 10 years, there were not many trophies in this club but we have an opportunity to win two trophies in two years."

  • Kroos aiming to go out on a high in LaLiga farewell party Kroos aiming to go out on a high in LaLiga farewell party

    Runaway LaLiga champions Real Madrid welcome Real Betis for the last game of the domestic season in what was supposed to be just a dress rehearsal ahead of next week's Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley.

    But the shock retirement announcement of midfielder Toni Kroos on Tuesday suddenly changed the significance of Saturday's clash, which quickly lost that end-of-the-season vibe.

    A sold-out crowd will bid farewell to a fan favourite and all-time club great who will play his final game at the stadium after a remarkable decade with the Spanish giants.

    Kroos said in a statement on his social media that his last game for Madrid will be next week's Champions League final, adding that he will retire after this year's European Championship on home soil.

    Madrid have had little to play for in the last couple of weeks after claiming a record-extending 36th LaLiga title on May 4 and reaching the Champions League final four days later.

    Carlo Ancelotti has rested most of his regular starters in the last three league matches but is expected to use the Betis game as a practice run for the Wembley final, with two big question marks in defence.

    Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois' full recovery from an ACL tear suffered in August has left the Italian with a tricky decision.

    Stand-in Andriy Lunin was Real's penalty hero as they beat Manchester City to reach the semi-finals, but Courtois is widely considered one of the best keepers in the world and is likely to regain his starting spot against Dortmund.

    The centre-back who will play alongside Antonio Rudiger is Ancelotti's other issue.

    He has used holding midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and long-time back-up defender Nacho alongside Rudiger after David Alaba and Eder Militao sustained ACL tears early in the season.

    After making a full recovery last month, Militao has struggled to regain top form and, with Tchouameni out with a foot injury sustained against Bayern Munich, Ancelotti is left to decide between the Brazilian and Spaniard Nacho.

    Champions Real Madrid have 94 points, 12 ahead of second-placed Barcelona going into the final round of LaLiga matches this season. 

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.