Earlier this year, Casemiro insisted he was desperate to win titles with Manchester United.
‘I want to win titles and important games here,’ he told the club’s website back in February.
‘It’s not easy. We know that. Especially because we’re talking about the most difficult league in the world. But that’s what I want to be known for.’
The Brazilian got off to the right start in that quest as he was one of the key players in Man United’s team during the 2021-22 campaign, helping them to win the Carabao Cup and having an influential role in guiding Erik ten Hag’s men into third place in the Premier League.
The Dutch manager admitted his new midfielder had exceeded expectations during his first term at the club, while former Liverpool star Graeme Souness claimed Casimero was the ‘key to Man United’s resurgence’.
Casemiro (pictured) has been heavily criticised for his performances for Manchester United this season
Erik ten Hag’s side have endured an underwhelming start to the 2023-24 campaign
United’s midfield has been criticised with some claiming that they are allowing attackers to dribble past them
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He was also lauded on many occasions as the linchpin in the centre of the park that the club has been missing for many years.
All things considered, it was an excellent start to life at Old Trafford. But the 31-year-old’s performances at the beginning of his second season at United have not been up to the same level.
United, too, have been below par and are currently languishing in 13th place in the Premier League after an underwhelming start to the new season.
Is it just rustiness or a lack of cohesion among the team? Or it is something more concerning?
Many have pointed to United’s midfield, and Casemiro’s form, as being one of their biggest issues so far this season.
Casemiro has been dribbled past twice as much than he did at Real Madrid
Casemiro and United’s midfield have both been called into question for how easy they have allowed players to run past them.
Signing for United for £70million from Real Madrid in the summer of 2022, the 31-year-old was eased into life in the English top flight but adapted quickly to the speed of the league.
Considering his experience playing at the base of Real Madrid’s midfield, while being capped 73 times for Brazil, there was an expectation on him to steady things in the centre of the field for United.
And he did exactly that. United’s win percentage with him in the side during the previous campaign sits at 72.4 per cent. Without Casemiro, who started in 24 of the 28 Premier League matches he was available for, that figure drops to 66 per cent, according to Planet Football. This season, however, he has so far failed to match that form.
According to Stats Perform, an opposition player has dribbled past the Brazilian 2.8 times per 90 minutes this season. That is more than double the amount of players who dribbled past him during his final season at Real Madrid, which stands at 1.3.
He also allowed 2.1 players to dribble past him per 90 minutes last season for United, an increase on his record in LaLiga with the Spanish Giants.
Casemiro is making less tackles compared to last season, with his count dropping from 3.7 per 90 minutes in 2022-23 to 2.8 this campaign.
The five-time Champions League winner also amassed less than half the same number of interceptions he produced for United and Madrid in his last two seasons. That data paints a pretty plain picture that defensively the Brazilian’s form has dropped off at the start of the new campaign.
Casemiro (left) has failed to live up to the standards he has set in previous seasons
He has also completed less tackles and less interceptions this season compared to his previous two campaigns
United have suffered back-to-back 3-1 defeats to Arsenal and Brighton in their last two Premier League outings
The signs were there from their opening Premier League victory against Wolves. Despite United scraping a 1-0 win, Gary O’Neil’s side impressed with Matheus Cunha bounding through through the Red Devil’s midfield on several occasions during the match formulating several threatening attacks.
Other teams have since capitalized on United’s inability to stop runners through the midfield, with Mail Sport’s columnist Martin Keown telling talkSPORT that ‘you could drive a bus through Man United’s midfield right now.’
He added in his column for Mail Sport last week: ‘United are the Premier League’s worst culprits for letting opponents dribble past them and Casemiro tops the list.
‘But it does not help that the 31-year-old Brazilian is often left on his own to deal with the flood of opposition players coming through the middle.
‘In the defeat by Arsenal, when keeper Andre Onana had the ball, Casemiro was dropping between the centre backs. That takes United’s most combative midfielder away from the centre and tasks Eriksen and Fernandes with winning the ball back when they lose possession.’
Saturday’s loss to Roberto De Zerbi’s side gave more backing to claims that United have problems in midfield, with Brighton running rings around the Red Devils.
That brought more questions on the performances of their talismanic midfielder, with Gabriel Agbonlahor this week claiming ‘Casemiro looked 45 in midfield’ during their game against Brighton.
Is Casemiro underperforming?
The Brazilian was partly at fault for Danny Welbeck’s opener against Brighton, falling behind the striker as he progressed into the United penalty area.
Casemiro sped up, noticing the ex-United forward getting away from him as he approached the 18-yard-line. Casemiro managed to catch up to him, but subsequently allowed Welbeck to sneak behind, losing his concentration on the runner who found enough space inside the box to tap in a cross from Simon Adringa.
It also didn’t help his case that Ten Hag opted to substitute him after 65 minutes in place of Hannibal Mejbri during Saturday’s defeat.
It is worth noting that he has played 604 minutes already this season across five appearances for Manchester United and two appearances for Brazil, where he captained the side to victories against Bolivia and Peru last week.
At the age of 31, Casemiro still certainly has plenty in the tank to play at the top level, but the signs suggest that he is suffering from a lack of form.
Opponents have gotten past him more regularly than last season, yes, that doesn’t fully justifies suggestions online claiming he is past it or declining. Things right now just don’t seem to be clicking for him.
That may be down to his lack of support defensively at the base of United’s midfield three, with Casemiro looking isolated at times. That comes down to Ten Hag’s team selections.
The Brazilian has also found himself dropping back into United’s defence at times this season, leaving Bruno Fernandes, Mason Mount, Christian Eriksen and McTominay – who have all appeared in United’s midfield – exposed.
Sofyan Amrabat’s arrival at the club, meanwhile, could be a benefit for the Brazilian.
While the Moroccan brings competition for places, the 27-year-old possesses an admirable engine. He covered the most ground at the 2022 World Cup for Morocco (81.4km) and that may add a little more energy to Ten Hag’s midfield as well as being beneficial to Casemiro.
It remains to be seen whether the manager will play both in the same system, but if the duo do start at the base of midfield, Casemiro should benefit from the Moroccan’s dynamism.
Casemiro (middle) may be buoyed by the arrival of holding midfield player Sofyan Amrabat
Loan signing Amrabat has not featured for United yet this season because of injury
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In that system, the former Fiorentina star could play a slightly more advanced role too as he made 7.93 progressive passes per 90 mins for the Serie A side last season. For context Kevin De Bruyne leads the way across Europe with 9.1 progressive passes per 90, while Martin Odegaard amassed a figure of 7.67 for Arsenal during the previous campaign.
That’s a position that former United defender Gary Neville said he could see the Amrabat playing. He told Sky Sports: ‘One thing that Erik ten Hag is not going to do is go back to the likes of Fred and Scott McTominay who he believes are technically not good enough on the ball.
‘He wants everybody in the team to be able to accept the football and receive it. Amrabat coming in, he is a passer of the ball and can sit in there alongside Casemiro.’
Amrabat may be able to do more of the running work and help United improve the speed of their press from the base of midfield, relieving some of the defensive onus on Casemiro.
Put simply, the 31-year-old Brazilian is a good player and may simply be affected by a lack of confidence.
The stats seem to pin much of the blame on him for United’s woes so far this season but bringing bringing Amrabat in alongside Casemiro may be the answer to helping the defensive midfielder improve.
|LaLiga and Premier League seasons||Real Madrid (2021-22)||Manchester United (2022-23)||Manchester United (2023-24)|
|Dribbled past by opponent||1.3||2.1||2.8|
|*Data provided by Stats Perform|