Let’s not kid ourselves here – Manchester United did not start the summer searching for a defensive midfield ‘destroyer’.
Erik ten Hag specifically set his parameters for his new club to sign a composed, ball-playing No 6 who could link back to front and get United moving forwards. That player very much resembled Frenkie de Jong.
But as their chances of tempting De Jong away from Barcelona have vanished, United have ended up with a midfielder from a very different mould.
Casemiro competes with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane during last season’s Champions League final – the Brazilian, moving from Real Madrid to Man United, is a top class ball stealer
Casemiro has achieved notable successes with Real, including five Champions League titles
Manchester United showcased new man Casemiro from Real Madrid on Monday evening
Casemiro, who has completed a £60million transfer from Real Madrid that could rise by a further £10m, is a footballer who thrives on stopping opponents in their tracks as opposed to sparking his own team’s attacks.
You suspect if the Brazilian, a serial winner both domestically in Spain and in the Champions League, hits the ground running and United turn around their dismal start, they’ll claim this was part of the plan all along.
If the bad results keep coming in the weeks ahead – they made a good start in turning it around by beating Liverpool 2-1 as he watched from the stands – there will continue to be questions as to whether United have gone out and bought the wrong kind of defensive midfielder.
However, as familiar as De Jong would have been to Ten Hag, you can’t deny that Brazil international Casemiro is more of what United need right now given they’ve conceded six goals in two games against Brighton and Brentford.
Manchester United endured an awful start to the season, losing their opening two games
New manager Erik ten Hag is already very much aware of the enormous task at hand
The 30-year-old prides himself in being one step ahead of the other team. In the last three seasons of Champions League football, nobody has won the ball back more than Casemiro and nobody has made more tackles.
In the player’s own words, as told to Panenka magazine in Spain last February: ‘The first thing I want to see after a game is how many recoveries or interceptions I have made.
‘These are my numbers; my goals, my assists. Of course, everyone likes to score, to make a nice play, but my happiness comes in recovering the ball.
‘That shows how much I have helped the team.’
Given the vulnerability of United’s back line – a problem dating back to last season – they urgently need a Casemiro figure who can do all of those things and take some of the pressure off Harry Maguire, Lisandro Martinez and Co.
The Brazilian was photographed holding a United shirt ahead of the game at Old Trafford
Ten Hag wanted to sign Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona but United now have a very different type of midfielder in Casemiro
Casemiro will add presence to a midfield where Fred (left) and Scott McTominay (right) are often United’s only options
The speed with which the Casemiro deal was wrapped up – Real typically need to offload one big name each summer and did so ruthlessly here with midfield successors in place – means a solution has practically dropped from the sky.
Casemiro will walk straight into Ten Hag’s team because he represents an upgrade on both Fred and Scott McTominay, the other two options in that position.
What will be fascinating is how Ten Hag then reconfigures his side to make best use of him.
For years, Casemiro has slotted in alongside Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in a hugely effective and successful Real midfield.
Put it this way, Casemiro goals and assists are collector’s items. He understands his role is to win back possession and to move the ball on to someone more technically proficient when it comes to a pass.
Casemiro’s statistics in LaLiga matches for Real Madrid over the last three seasons
The Brazilian’s record in Champions League football over the last three season with Real
Casemiro tops the charts for possession won and tackles in the Champions League (right) over the last three seasons and rates highly in LaLiga for both measures (left) as well
With that in mind, Ten Hag could play him alongside Christian Eriksen and behind Bruno Fernandes in his 4-2-3-1 formation. Eriksen is an accomplished passer and much of the defensive donkey work would be alleviated.
But Eriksen may not be able to do all of the connecting work between defence and attack and would quickly find himself doubled up on by the opposition.
Given how shambolic United looked under pressure at Brentford, that would be a recipe for disaster.
McTominay would offer plenty of work-rate and running but lacks the passing qualities of the Dane when it comes to breaking a press and moving United forward.
So it may well be that Ten Hag emulates the Brazil coach Tite and pairs Casemiro with Fred in the United engine room.
Fred and Casemiro are likely to be Brazil’s first-choice midfield pairing at the World Cup
They started alongside each other in midfield during June’s friendly internationals against Japan and South Korea, hinting Tite could favour this industrious midfield for the World Cup later this year.
It’s easy to see how Casemiro’s ball-winning ability and Fred’s boundless energy can provide an effective anchor so the likes of Neymar, Richarlison, Raphinha and Vinicius Junior can do their thing in attack.
But Fred remains an inconsistent and often frustrating figure for United.
He undoubtedly tries hard but sometimes lacks the combative streak needed to thrive in the Premier League.
Casemiro can maybe help him win the midfield battles in the tougher games, whereas against other opponents Eriksen can ensure the supply lines are always open.
Real manager Carlo Ancelotti was certainly fond of Casemiro but was willing to let him leave
Another quality of the new arrival is that he has a knack of avoiding yellow and red cards despite tackling being such a big component of his game.
Casemiro has been sent off only twice in 521 senior matches for club and country. In the rough and tumble of English football, it will be interesting to see if this largely blemish-free disciplinary record continues.
With five Champions League successes under his belt, Casemiro is unquestionably a proven winner and should help to raise standards of professionalism in the United dressing room that have been sorely lacking of late.
But then we said similar of Raphael Varane, who arrived from Real 12 months ago, and also Cristiano Ronaldo when he made his emotional return to Old Trafford last September.
Only time will tell if Casemiro galvanises this ailing United team and drags them out of their malaise or if he is dragged down by the under-achievers around him. Ten Hag and United will pray it’s the former.
Proven winners like Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and Raphael Varane (right) have been dragged down by the underachievement at United