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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Casemiro-Fred partnership for Brazil could transform Man Utd’s midfield

Manchester United’s desperate need for a new central midfielder was clear, so the Old Trafford club signed one of the best in the game in Casemiro. The Brazilian has made the switch to the Premier League from Real Madrid with a €70m price tag, a fee seen as inflated due to the club’s desperation. It also says something about Casemiro’s quality.

Erik ten Hag didn’t necessarily want a midfielder in Casemiro’s mould. The Dutchman wanted Frenkie de Jong instead, with the Barcelona midfielder’s ability to progress the ball viewed as potentially transformational for a Manchester United team that has recently struggled in possession. Casemiro has earned a reputation as a midfield destroyer, but ten Hag wanted a creator. 

With Casemiro signed for such a large fee, it’s now unlikely that United will also complete a deal for de Jong, who has dug his heels in to stay at Barca this summer. This raises questions over how ten Hag will remould his midfield when he doesn’t necessarily have the players to adapt his favoured approach.

Fred could be key to this remoulding process. He already has an understanding with Casemiro at international level for Brazil and that is something ten Hag could look to carry over into his Manchester United team. It would be surprising if United’s scouting staff didn’t analyse this partnership before Casemiro was signed.

Until now, Fred has generally been seen as a defensive-minded operator at the base of the Manchester United midfield. For Brazil, though, the 29-year-old has a greater degree of freedom to carry the ball forward and facilitate attacks with Casemiro more than willing to offer protection and structure in behind his teammate.

Those who have watched Brazil in recent times argue Manchester United fans malign Fred because their team has rarely, if ever, deployed him in a way that permits him to play his best soccer. The arrival of Casemiro could change the dynamic for Fred at Old Trafford. United might now see the best of the Brazilian.

Casemiro himself is also capable of creating attacking moves from deep. It might be true that the 30-year-old’s best quality can be found in his ability to disrupt opposition teams, but he averages 47 carries per 90 minutes, placing him in the 73rd percentile for this part of the game among players in his position.

“He is the cement between the stones, that is what we have been looking for in the summer and found him,” ten Hag said after Manchester United’s signing of Casemiro was made official. “[I’m] very happy with his signing. He has won so many trophies in his career. He knows the road: how you win games and finally how you win trophies. We [now] have more players who have won already many trophies in their career. That has to be a guidance for the rest of the team so they know and they understand how to win games.”

That experience ten Hag references will be important for a Manchester United team that has forgotten how to win in recent times. Ten Hag needs leaders on the pitch and Casemiro fits the bill in that regard. He has achieved everything there is to achieve in the club game and United should be a stronger team for his know-how.

United are very much a work-in-progress under ten Hag. Their 2-1 victory over Liverpool hinted at what the Dutch coach might achieve at Old Trafford, but even in that performance there were signs of compromise from ten Hag. David de Gea, for instance, hit it long rather than playing it short. United didn’t have the sort of control ten Hag likes from his teams, but their intensity and energy couldn’t be faulted.

The signing of Casemiro represents another compromise. He wasn’t ten Hag’s primary target at the start of the summer transfer window, but it’s feasible that he could still give Manchester United what they need even if it’s another player that takes on the responsibility of progressing the ball from deep. Casemiro might not give United exactly what they need, but his partnership with Fred could help them become a winning team. 

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