When Manchester United needed a leader to drag them over the line and back into the Champions League, of course it was Casemiro who stepped up.
The man who told United he would “fix” their problems after watching the 4-0 defeat to Brentford back in August has been as good as his word. Casemiro had been below par since his latest suspension but against Bournemouth and Chelsea he has risen to the occasion. When his team needed him, he was there.
The Brazilian swapped a career in the Champions League for a stint in the Europa League with United, but only for one season. He will add to his 83 Champions League appearances next season and there’s no doubt he will begin the season by thinking he could end it with a sixth winner’s medal.
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He is that kind of character. Erik ten Hag prioritised character and personality in his summer signings and he’s got that with Casemiro. Plenty felt United were overpaying when spending £70million on a holding midfielder in his 30s this summer, but his influence is just as valuable as his performances.
He has become the setter of standards for Ten Hag and is a missing piece of the jigsaw in midfield. As Liverpool threatened to make United’s ascent to the top four nervy, Casemiro has calmed them down. He’s scored in successive games and done so in the first 10 minutes of both.
Those goals have come in league fixtures that have been decisive and he opened the scoring at Wembley in the Carabao Cup success against Newcastle. Big players define big games.
What he did in the first minute of this game arguably set the tone. United started on the front foot and when Chelsea briefly regained the ball Casemiro flew into a challenge in midfield, forcefully returning the ball to his own team’s possession. He earned a roar from the Stretford End and sent a jolt of electricity through his own team.
Six minutes later he was artfully angling his head to guide Christian Eriksen’s free-kick beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga to again settle any hint of nervousness. United struggled for a long period of the first half after losing Antony to injury, but they went in two ahead thanks to the brilliance of their Brazilian.
He was signed to be a destroyer, to stop opposing attacks and strengthen United’s rearguard, but he contributes in the final third as well. His header was his seventh goal of the season and there have been six assists. He won’t get an assist for Anthony Martial’s goal, but he owed everything to him.
There he was, the base of the midfield as United pushed forward and on for a pass when they reset the attack. He progressed forward with the ball before flicking a pass over the defence for Jadon Sancho’s well-timed run. It split the game open and Sancho laid the finish on a plate to Martial, but Casemiro’s contribution was the greater.
He was serenaded continuously by Old Trafford during this victory and United’s supporters recognise they have a player of real substance. He was last off the pitch on Thursday night and as he walked towards the tunnel with his name being chanted again, you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
Next season he will be back in the competition he belongs in. He fixed it.