How Casemiro has lost his superpower at a worrying time for treble-chasing United
One of his greatest talents added to the sense he was an authoritative figure who could run a game as well as a midfield: he knew how to stay on the pitch.
Go back a few weeks and Manchester United could marvel at the range of Casemiro’s skills. There was the tackling prowess and ability to sniff out danger that had forged him a reputation as one of the world’s best defensive midfielders, and the winning habit that saw him accumulate trophy after trophy.
But there was also the passing range that was obscured by the presence of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos alongside him at Real Madrid. He was playmaker and, with his ability in the box, he was a scorer.
But one of his greatest talents added to the sense he was an authoritative figure who could run a game as well as a midfield: he knew how to stay on the pitch.
There were three separate seasons when Casemiro was booked 15 times but not sent off. He was the master of brinkmanship, navigating games when a mistimed tackle away from an early exit, the destructive force who never proved self-destructive.
Until now, perhaps.
Two of Casemiro’s last four league appearances have been curtailed early.
Only one player has been sent off twice in the Premier League this season: him. He had only seen red twice in the first 600 games of his career for club and country. He has doubled that tally in a few weeks.
“Inconsistency,” lamented Erik ten Hag and, to some extent, he has a point.
Casemiro’s first dismissal came for grabbing Crystal Palace’s Will Hughes around the neck and, had a different camera angle been shown on VAR, he might not have been expelled.
His second was for a lunge at Southampton’s Carlos Alcaraz when the recipient was only booked for a similar challenge against Leicester last week.
“Casemiro was unlucky,” said David De Gea. “He tried to touch the ball and his foot came up high. I think the referees need to show more consistency. Sometimes they show a red card and sometimes they don’t.”
Yet Casemiro is not used to such arguments being deployed on his behalf; the contentious dismissals always came the way of others.
Ten Hag is considering an appeal – “we will see,” he said – but it would almost certainly fail. It was studs up and into the shin: it was risky and reckless.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable elements about Casemiro is that he does have a tackling technique that, when he does not get the ball, could imperil him; the yellow card he got for chopping down Wilfried Zaha at Selhurst Park might have been a red. Meanwhile, he certainly did not need to get involved in the melee against Palace at Old Trafford; while Ten Hag felt three or four red cards could have been brandished then, that would not have spared Casemiro.
One of the most important abilities is availability. By the time he completes his new four-game ban, he will have been ineligible for eight of United’s last 16 matches, while a booking on Thursday would rule him out of a Europa League quarter-final first leg.
He may have lost his superpower. If he had a cloak of invisibility when it came to red cards, now his ubiquity has given him a magnetism to referees.
“Casemiro is across European leagues in over 500 games he had never a [straight] red card and now he has twice,” Ten Hag said. “He plays tough but he plays fair.”
Which may be the case up to a point: most defensive midfielders engage in tactical fouling and Casemiro has mastered the dark arts better than many. In 2019-’20, he committed the second most fouls in Europe’s top five leagues without ever drawing the ultimate sanction.
That La Liga’s over-excitable, erratic referees only sent him off twice in seven years at Real, each for two bookings, both late on in victories, remains remarkable.
He had 90 yellow cards in his career before his first red. Now no one who has played as few games for United has been expelled twice.
In the process, he has become the first United player to be sent off twice in a season since Ander Herrera in 2016-’17, when Jose Mourinho seemed intent on turning the Spaniard into more of a nasty, niggly presence.
In the space of nine games, he has drawn level with George Best, who was sent off twice in a rather longer United career.
In his performances and his influence, he has invited more comparisons with another United icon. Many a midfielder has failed to emulate Roy Keane; Casemiro has come closer than most but red cards are becoming a common denominator with the Irishman.
Another No 18, Paul Scholes, got the second most in United’s history. Some were costly. Now Casemiro’s latest suspension will take in a trip to Newcastle, with a top-four finish on the line, and an FA Cup quarter-final, with a treble at stake.
It is largely a compliment to say much has seemed to revolve around him this season, but a little less so now.
In three successive Sundays, he has been man of the match and a scorer in the Carabao Cup final, awful at Anfield and expelled at Old Trafford.
He is the great barometer. If, after the years in the shadow of Modric, Kroos, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, plenty of people have started to pay more attention to Casemiro, the problem for him is that some of them are referees.
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