Defensive midfielder, defender, and sweeper all in one: Casemiro

Mar 1, 2023

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MANCHESTER, England – As Manchester United defeated Newcastle 2-0 in the Carabao Cup final, Casemiro was rightfully voted player of the match. But, in some ways, this was Casemiro’s poorest performance while wearing a Manchester United jersey. 

The Brazilian midfielder completed passes at a surprisingly low rate of 58% for a renowned deep midfielder. 

It wasn’t even a reflection on Casemiro’s willingness to play daring passes; rather, it was more proof that this wasn’t a passing-based Manchester United performance. Clearances made by David de Gea went unnoticed by him. Instead of playing the ball through the center, the center-backs played it wide. Simply put, Erik ten Hag’s squad didn’t play through midfield, therefore Casemiro frequently found the ball at his feet after recovering it on his own.

And that was the main focus of the performance. Although Casemiro scored the game’s first goal with a header in a great Manchester United performance, he placed more of an emphasis on the defensive aspect of a defensive midfielder. 

When Manchester United had the ball and Fred was moving forward in a 4-2-3-1 that appeared more like a 4-3-3, Casemiro was required to control a lot of space in the middle of the field. 

At times, Manchester United effectively man-marked opponents without the ball. Bruno Fernandes was tasked with trailing Bruno Guimaraes while Fred kept an eye on Sean Longstaff, and Casemiro would stay back and monitor Joelinton.

Casemiro spent a lot of time playing much closer to his back four than to his two midfield teammates because he was constantly looking over his shoulder when the ball was on United’s left, watching Joelinton’s position. This was a particularly crucial task because Newcastle tried to push Joelinton forward from midfield into his old position as a center-forward. 

The 31-year-old stops his opponent by getting goalside while chasing back on a counterattack. He then leaps in to impede the action by tackling Wilson. The ball is then won by Casemiro a second time as Wilson grabs it first and tries to pass it to Miguel Almiron.

Wilson shrewdly dipped deep to create space as Casemiro was being brought closer to Isak. Eventually, Ten Hag tried to strengthen his midfield, taking off Fred and center-forward Wout Weghorst and replacing them with the aggressive pairing of Marcel Sabitzer and Scott McTominay. 

Yet Casemiro remained the game’s top performer. Isak was already stopping his pace as Allan Saint-Maximin attempted to play the ball in behind for Newcastle. However, Casemiro did read the pass, so after screening in front of the back four for the majority of the game, he now moves behind them to mop up. Casemiro’s performance as a defensive midfielder, defender, and sweeper was summed up in such a way.

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