Casemiro was the unlikely match-winner for Real Madrid on Sunday evening as they survived a late scare to beat relegation-threatened Las Palmas 2-1 and hand manager Zinedine Zidane just his third away league win since taking over at the start of 2016.
Las Palmas produced a spirited display, especially in the second half, and got a deserved equaliser through ex-Real striker Willian Jose six minutes from time, only for Casemiro to head home a corner from close range with a minute remaining.
The 24-year-old’s first ever Real Madrid goal papered over the cracks of what was a lacklustre performance by Los Blancos, and after the game Zidane admitted he was worried about his side’s form. Despite the win, Madrid still find themselves 12 points behind leaders Barcelona with only nine league games left.
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Casemiro, who moved to the Bernabeu from Sao Paulo in 2013, isn’t exactly the first name on the teamsheet, having started only ten league games so far this season, however his impressive defensive contributions are essential to any chances Real Madrid have of achieving success in the near future.
Against Barcelona back in November, new Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez opted to play all of the club’s Galacticos, leaving Casemiro on the bench, and the result was catastrophic. The team looked unbelievably disjointed, with forwards just waiting up front for the ball to come to them whilst the rest of the team tried to cope with the devastating quality of Barcelona’s team play.
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The size of the gaps that appeared at times between Real’s midfield and defence was frightening, and it gave Barca captain Andres Iniesta the time and space to run the entire game and put both Luis Suarez and Neymar through on goal on numerous occasions by splitting Madrid wide open. Luis Enrique’s men destroyed Benitez’s side at the Bernabeu and the 4-0 scoreline probably would’ve been even more embarrassing if Lionel Messi was fully fit and had started the game.
You can get away with packing your team full of attack-minded players against lowly La Liga opposition, but against the best teams in Europe, Real Madrid’s lack of cohesion as a defensive unit has, and will continue to cause them serious difficulties. There is a growing belief amongst football fans that Real are simply a group of individuals as opposed to a team that works together.
WHAT CAN CASEMIRO OFFER?
Casemiro might not have the reputation of global superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez but he is extremely vital because Los Blancos don’t have another player like him in their current squad and he gives them balance.
The Brazilian international constantly harasses and closes down players, he is strong, reads the game well and at his best he is a dominant, physical specimen in the middle of the park. He is by no means the answer to all of Real’s problems, but he breaks up opposition attacks and he is excellent at retrieving possession of the ball.
Unlike flair players like Isco and Mateo Kovavic, Casemiro is dependable, reliable and you know exactly what you’re going to get with him. The defensive midfielder knows his role within the team, he is aware of his limitations as well as his capabilities and he keeps the game very simple.
Casemiro, who spent last season on loan at Porto, provides much-needed protection for Madrid’s centre-backs who have often been left exposed in matches this season. When full-backs like Marcelo burst forward without a second thought and seemingly abdicate their defensive responsibilities, Casemiro is the player who drops in and covers the spaces left by his teammates.
His presence just in front of the back four also gives Real’s more technically gifted midfielders such as Luka Modric and Toni Kroos the freedom to push further forward and influence the game in the final third of the pitch.
If the hierarchy at the club choose not to invest in a top-class defensive midfielder this summer, or if their FIFA transfer ban is imposed, then Casemiro will be an indispensable player for the ten-time Champions League winners moving forward.
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