In the rush to sign players with their squad in sore need of improvement, Manchester United turned to Real Madrid’s Casemiro. He is one of the games best defensive midfielders, and is an upgrade on the options United already had at their disposal. Casemiro should help solve a number of issues. But some issues are still left unresolved.
With Casemiro comes plenty of experience. He has won multiple Champions League titles, proving outstanding in Zinedine Zidane’s 4-D-2, and more recently Carlo Ancelotti’s 4-3-3. The Brazilian has in one sense been Los Blancos’ key player for the last five years. He is a truly excellent ball-winner, and has complemented the styles of both Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
Casemiro is very good positionally, and is a natural fit for a defensive role, whereas Scott McTominay and Fred are not. They are arguably far more suited to box-to-box roles, proving more erratic when United are without possession than Casemiro has been for Madrid. The spaces Casemiro takes up, and his awareness of opposing players movements should mean better closing down of passing lanes, and United will unlikely be as vulnerable against opposing sides counter-attacks as they are currently.
United do need to have a long-term plan to set the foundations for what Ten Hag wants to do with the club, But in the meantime, short-term fixes are also a must. Casemiro as a short-term fix may not have any serial long-term gains. But at the same time, you could argue that before United can do anything long-term, immediate issues, which experienced players can help with, need to be attended to. Casemiro tackles immediate issues.
Yet, even when he is undoubtedly a very good defensive midfielder. Casemiro does not solve all of United’s problems that lie in midfield. United do still need to acquire a midfielder who can truly orchestrate build-up in deeper positions, and who can move the ball forward with line-breaking passes. Casemiro is not that sort of profile, instead quickly giving the ball to midfielders of that sort upon regaining it.
But although many fans have been crying out for the club to sign Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong, de Jong alone would not solve all of United’s midfield problems, either. In an ideal world, United would have already signed both.
Casemiro’s arrival could affect how United do set-up in build-up. It could mean there will be more reliance on the full-backs to progress the ball up the pitch, regardless of the shape United take up in possession. Both full-backs may have to play inverted, which means the wingers would have to stay wide.
Therefore United may need to adapt given their new addition having already tried a few things in the opening two league games. Nevertheless, the idea of Casemiro acclimatising to manager Erik Ten Hag’s football cannot be ruled out. For example, upon his move to Barcelona, de Jong was replaced by Edson Alvarez in Ajax’s midfield.
Casemiro could possibly start matches alongside compatriot Fred. Both regularly been the anchors of Brazil’s midfield in recent years. Fred will likely have more licence to support attacking moves. However, as good as Casemiro is in reading opposing attacks, Fred would need to support in defensive transitions too. There is also the option to play either another box-to-box type in McTominay, who is also aggressive and makes lateral runs, or the highly technical Christian Eriksen. But given their on-pitch relationship, perhaps the Brazilian duo is the probable pairing.
The fee is a hefty one. Casemiro has reportedly cost United €60m, and according to Marca, is set to earn a gross annual salary of €18.5m. Casemiro is also 30 years old. That is not necessarily a major issue; in June, Madrid extended Modric’s contract by an extra year, and he turns 37 next month. But it may mean that there is no profit to be made when he is eventually surplus to requirements, and United may only receive a couple of seasons worth of prime displays until a replacement would be needed.
What the back and forth comes to show is that Casemiro was a necessary acquisition for the club to make, but comes with queries, and would be made even more fruitful if adapting to the set-up proves smooth, and more additions are made.