Should Man Utd be worried about Casemiro? £70m man’s form has been terrible for weeks

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The Brazilian has established himself as a cult hero at Old Trafford - but appears to be running out of steam at the business end of the season

When Manchester United forked out £70 million to sign Casemiro from Real Madrid last summer, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Yes, they were investing in a serial winner with bags of experience, but they were also handing a four-year contract to a 30-year-old who was targuably already past his peak.

A slow start to life in England only gave extra fuel to critics of the deal, but Casemiro gradually proved his worth. The Brazilian played a vital role in ending the club's six-year trophy drought, and has also been colossal during their push for a return to the Champions League.

Ill discipline has overshadowed his contribution at times, but he has generally done a great job of plugging a gap in midfield that has been a problem for United throughout the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. Casemiro is aggressive, strong and hard-working, and his tenacity has helped to drive Erik ten Hag's side forward.

Maintaining that level of performance is difficult for any player, especially in a team that is competing across multiple different fronts. And in recent weeks, it's clear that the demanding schedule has taken a toll on Casemiro.

He was hit with a four-match suspension after picking up his second straight red card of the season in a 0-0 draw against Southampton on March 12, and hasn't been the same since. Casemiro was poor across both legs of United's Europa League quarter-final against Sevilla, which they lost 5-2 on aggregate, and underwhelmed in their FA Cup semi-final victory against Brighton.

West Ham's Declan Rice outclassed Casemiro in their battle at the London Stadium, too, as United fell to another costly away loss in the Premier League. The question is: Should Ten Hag be worried?

The Red Devils still have plenty of work to do in order to seal a top-four finish, and the small matter of an FA Cup final date against Manchester City to wrap up their campaign. Beyond that, if United are serious about a return to the glory days they cannot afford to carry any passengers - even when it comes to a player of Casemiro's calibre.

  1. Fatigue factor

    Fatigue factor

    The main difference in Casemiro's recent performances compared to those earlier in the campaign is energy, which he had in spades throughout his career at Real Madrid. He played over 40 games across all competitions in each his final six campaigns at Santiago Bernabeu, so he's used to pushing his body to the limit.

    However, Casemiro is no spring chicken anymore. He turned 31 in February and it will inevitably get harder and harder for him to give his maximum for 90 minutes three times a week.

    The mid-season World Cup break didn't help Casemiro either, as he played four games for Brazil during their run to the quarter-finals at Qatar 2022. "No doubt I felt the impact of the busy international calendar. When you have a lot of games, in the end, it loses a little bit of quality; it loses a little bit of intensity,” he said in an interview with FIFPRO in April. "That's why it's important to have a great squad."

    United's squad still lacks depth, particularly in the middle of the park. The addition of Bayern Munich loanee Marcel Sabitzer in January was a smart one, but Christian Eriksen has missed most of 2023 due to injury. Much-maligned duo Scott McTominay and Fred are still playing regularly as a result, and Casemiro hasn't had the luxury of a regular partner in a holding role. Ideally, he needs a younger pair of legs next to him who boasts a similar level of talent, so that he can pace himself more effectively.

    Casemiro is still giving his all, but at the moment he is clearly struggling to have a big impact due to tiredness. His passing has been wayward and he's not carrying the same threat as usual in the final third of the pitch.

    The silver lining for United after their Europa League exit is that they now have a little bit more space between matches in the final weeks of the season. Casemiro will have benefitted from a five-day rest before lining up against Wolves at Old Trafford on Saturday, and there will be no hiding place if he fails to perform at his best again.

  2. Tension with Bruno

    Tension with Bruno

    After two of United's biggest wins of the season, Casemiro has been seen engaging in heated conversations with Bruno Fernandes. Before their Carabao Cup celebrations got into full swing, he complained that the Portuguese playmaker should have passed to Jadon Sancho to extend their lead in the final moments.

    And Casemiro appeared to question his team-mate's decision-making again following United's 1-0 over Aston Villa at Old Trafford on April 30. In stoppage time, Fernandes lost possession cheaply after trying to run at the opposition defence instead of heading for the corner and protecting the home side's lead.

    The pair quickly settled their differences and embraced before leaving the field, with Ten Hag playing down the incident to reporters. "I don’t have a problem with that and I think it shows a willingness, ambition, from this team," he said.

    But it was a similar story again after the full-time whistle at the London Stadium on Sunday. According to The Athletic, Casemiro and Fernandes held a 'mini-inquest' on the edge of the box to break down what went wrong.

    Fernandes has a reputation for rubbing his colleagues up the wrong way, but Casemiro isn't afraid to challenge him. They are both strong personalities and have arguably been the standout performers for Ten Hag during his first season at the helm. The Dutchman will need to keep a close eye on them, though. Creative tension can be a positive thing, but if the bad results continue, there is a risk of frustrations spilling over.

    United need Casemiro and Fernandes on the same page if they are to end the campaign in the top four and have any hope of beating City at Wembley. Wolves' visit to Old Trafford this weekend gives them the perfect opportunity to bury the hatchet.

  3. Holding back?

    Holding back?

    Casemiro won a place in the hearts of United fans quickly because of his dogged determination to win at all costs. His willingness to jump into tackles with full force was also endearing, but that bite in his game has been lacking since the Southampton draw.

    The Brazil international has only been booked once in his last five Premier League outings, and is no longer flying into challenges on a regular basis. It appears that his red card against the Saints prompted a shift in mentality.

    He was visibly emotional after being dismissed that day, and is now mitigating the risk of any further punishment from referees. When United blew a two-goal lead at Tottenham last month, Casemiro's hesitancy was clear to see.

    Three different players dribbled past him and he only made one successful tackle all night, while winning just one of his four ground duels. On top of that, he lost the ball on 15 occasions, and had only a solitary interception to his name by the end of the contest.

    After the Villa win, which was by far the best performance Casemiro has produced since his return, Ten Hag attempted to explain his dip in form. "Nobody is always playing brilliantly. He plays such a high level," said the United boss. “Some games with suspension, his rhythm is broken and he had to get back."

    Casemiro has yet to rediscover that rhythm. He seems to be suffering from a lack of confidence and is no longer making a significant impact, which should now be a major cause for concern for Ten Hag.

  4. Too much responsibility on his shoulders

    Too much responsibility on his shoulders

    The fact is, United have become overly reliant on Casemiro as the propulsive force behind their push for progress under Ten Hag. Yes, Marcus Rashford scores the goals and Fernandes is the master creator, but Casemiro is their general.

    "I defend, first of all, and provide balance to the team. I help my team-mates with defensive work, bring the ball out with quality, that is my job," he told the United Review before his Man-of-the-Match display in a 1-1 draw at Chelsea back in October.

    Not only are United a worse side when he is absent, but their whole game crumbles whenever he's not doing his job properly. The losses against Brighton and West Ham were a by-product of losing the midfield battle. If Casemiro doesn't step up, United fold as a collective. That fact was most evident at Anfield on March 5, when Liverpool stormed to an incredible 7-0 victory against their arch-rivals.

    Former Reds defender Jamie Carragher singled Casemiro out after the game. "It was his worst game for passing, he didn't win one tackle," he said on Sky Sports. "It shows how important he is to Manchester United. They lose to Man City without him, he’s not at the races at Anfield and they concede seven."

    United need more players that are ready to grab games by the scruff of the neck. Casemiro has become a leader and talisman, but there are times when the weight of that responsibility has become too heavy for him to bear.

  5. Caicedo the solution?
    Getty Images

    Caicedo the solution?

    Moises Caicedo really should have become a United player in January 2021. The club had scouted him extensively at Independiente del Valle and looked poised to seal a deal for one of the most promising teenagers in European football.

    However, they ended up backing out of the transfer due to concerns over potential agent fees, and Brighton swooped in to sign Caicedo for the bargain price of £4.5 million. The Ecuadorian has since established himself among the Premier League's elite midfielders, while saving some of his best displays for matches against United.

    Indeed, Caicedo was sensational during Brighton's shock win at Old Trafford on the opening weekend of the season, and was very unfortunate to be on the losing side in their FA Cup semi-final. He even shone in a makeshift right-back role as the Seagulls came out on top in their latest Premier League meeting, which highlighted his versatility.

    Arsenal went all out to sign Caicedo in January, and have been linked with another move for the 21-year-old this summer. Chelsea are also thought to be in the race for his signature, with Brighton set to demand at least £80m for one of their prized assets.

    Spending that kind of money would be a bitter pill for United to swallow after snubbing Caicedo two years ago, but they can't just stand by and let him join one of their main rivals. He could be the ideal signing to take some of the pressure off Casemiro next season, and replace him in Ten Hag's engine room in the long-term.

    Ten Hag is thought to be prioritising a new striker ahead of the summer transfer window, but he cannot afford to neglect the midfield. Caicedo has proven himself in the English top-flight already and would give United an invaluable extra option alongside Casemiro and Eriksen.

    If the Red Devils head into 2022-23 still overly dependent on Casemiro, they won't have any hope of closing the gap on City. Caicedo is worth the investment.

  6. Bayern lurking

    Bayern lurking

    Oscar Ribot, whose Best of You agency represents Casemiro, has suggested that United could be the midfielder's last club. “Case has signed for four years plus one,” Ribot told The Guardian earlier this year. “He’s come to win titles; there’s nothing else on his mind.”

    The Carabao Cup was a step in the right direction, and making it a double with success in the FA Cup final would be a satisfying return for Casemiro from his first season in England. However, United don't look any closer to winning another Premier League title.

    Ten Hag has lifted the mood of gloom at Old Trafford, but consistency remains elusive. And if United can secure Champions League qualification, they won't be considered among the favourites to win the competition next season.

    Bayern Munich's reported interest in Casemiro should, therefore, ring a few alarm bells in Manchester. According to kicker, the United star has landed on Thomas Tuchel's radar as the German looks to stamp his mark on his new squad at the Allianz Arena.

    Tuchel wants someone to provide extra support for Joshua Kimmich in a holding position and is said to be favouring an experienced player who can also take on leadership duties. Casemiro ticks those boxes, and his head could be turned if Bayern formalise their interest in the coming weeks.

    The Bundesliga champions have endured a turbulent season, but are still on course to defend their domestic crown. Tuchel will be expected to oversee a strong challenge for the Champions League next season, especially if Bayern are able to land their reported priority target Victor Osimhen from Napoli.

    Casemiro would be an ideal fit for Tuchel's system as he often favours a pivot in midfield and a solid defensive structure. It would be a simple transition for the Brazilian, who would be guaranteed more regular titles in Germany.

    Such a move seems unlikely given Casemiro's stature in the United dressing room, but his thought process could change if Ten Hag's side drop out of the top four and end the season with just one trophy. Even if he stays, the recent signs suggest that he won't end up making a lasting mark at Old Trafford.

    "It’s not a smart or shrewd signing when you look at it from a [big picture] point of view," Gary Neville said when assessing United's capture of Casemiro in March. The next few weeks will tell us whether the club's former captain was right.