UPDATE (05/25/2023): Casemiro did it again, scoring the opener against Chelsea and then playing a beautiful, Magic Johnson-esque no-look, line-splitting pass that set up United’s second goal. United ended up winning 4-1 to clinch Champions League football for next season. Next stop: The Sir Matt Busby and/or Players’ Player of the Year Trophy?
If there were any doubt that Casemiro has been Manchester United’s player of the season, he erased them on Saturday.
Showing an impressive bit of skill that you’d expect more from someone like Ronaldinho or Neymar, Casemiro scored on a beautiful overhead kick, leading United to a important 1-0 win at Bournemouth that put them on the brink of qualifying for next year’s Champions League.
It was a stunning goal that could very well have been named United’s Goal of the Year at the team’s season-ending banquet and award ceremony had the nominations not gone out earlier in the week.
In any event, Saturday illustrated why Casemiro has been our best and most valuable player this year. Once again, United played poorly and struggled on the road against a team that they should have had no problems with. In what’s becoming a theme these last couple of months, United had some chances to put the match out of reach, but failed to convert. Ultimately, it took a vintage performance from David de Gea, who clinched the Premier League Golden Glove with his 16th clean sheet of the season, to preserve the three points.
Casemiro’s winning mentality and professionalism have given the team a much needed boost this year, and one can only wonder where we’d be without him. After the 4-1 loss to Brentford in the second week of the season, Casemiro called his agent to tell United not to worry, he’d fix everything.
And he has. In fact, he’s been even better than advertised. United thought they were getting a goal-shield and defensive monster, and they did. But they also got an underrated offensive player, whose goal-scoring and playmaking attributes have been pleasant surprises.
When asked if Casemiro has exceeded expectations at United, Erik ten Hag didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely, by far. One of the things came out of our analysis was that we missed a player in the midfield, we studied this and we searched for this, it was not easy because there are not many in the profile who fits to the standard of Manchester United,” he said after the Bournemouth match. “He keeps surprising you. He’s such a brilliant football player. We know him as very good with organization, anticipation, winning duels, fighting and keeping the team together but in possession his passing distribution and finishing is very important.”
He’s also been a big-game player for United, rising to the occasion to help drag his team across the finish line. After all, if the goal before the season was to win a trophy and finish Top Four, then Casemiro has played vital roles in both. He was Man of the Match at Wembley in the League Cup Final and scored the goal that put United within touching distance of the Champions League. United just need 1 point in their last two matches, and despite their indifferent form as of late, that should definitely be attainable. Their last two matches are at home, where they turn into the 1999 Treble Team, and they face the worst Chelsea team of the last 20 years and a Fulham team they’ve already beaten twice (albeit both matches were closely contested).
And he’s been a leader on the team. Look no further than him laying in to Bruno Fernandes not once but twice after the latter made careless turnovers late in matches that could have had disastrous consequences. Or how he stepped up to take the first penalty kick in the recent shootout win over Brighton in the FA Cup Semifinals. Or how he stepped in to protect Antony after mounting criticism over his loss of form earlier in the year. Or how, after the Bournemouth match, he went to de Gea and embraced him, knowing the under-fire goalkeeper might be short on confidence these days. There’s a reason why so many people have compared him to Roy Keane, and it’s not just because of their similar positions and penchant for bookings.
Of course, that brings up the elephant in the room. Yes, his discipline record hasn’t been good, and he’s been up-and-down since returning from his most recent suspension, which is why I suspect some pundits and former players have seemingly forgotten about him and have been making a case for Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes or even Luke Shaw as United’s Player of the Year.
So maybe that’s why Casemiro turned on the style over the weekend. Maybe it was a subtle reminder to everyone who’s forgotten about him and the clear impact he’s had on the team. Sure, in matches where Casemiro got sent off or suspended, United took out of 18 out of 27 points, but they had very little control in midfield during those games and were helped by playing weak opposition (five matches were against teams in the relegation zone).
Here’s hoping Casemiro has one more Herculean performance in him this season. We’ll need it against a Man City team that looks like a cinch to win the Treble.