After the Brighton season opener, this author wrote about the failure of the Glazer family to make the right midfield signings over the years. Surprise surprise, one of the world’s best midfielders in Casemiro is presented to the fans during half time of the Liverpool game. The less said about the Brentford game sandwiched between these events, the better.
But Casemiro did not play during the Liverpool game. It was the familiar name of Scott McTominay, with Eriksen and Captain Fernandes in particular who put in a monstrous shift. United emerged 2-1 winners, in no small part because of the work of the aforementioned midfielders. Does that mean United’s midfield options are good enough? Does that mean the Casemiro signing is improvement enough?
The answer to both questions is an emphatic NO. The Liverpool performance was good, laying down a marker for what should be the MINIMUM in EVERY game in terms of effort, discipline and tackling. But it was the same type of performance OGS mustered during his tenure in most domestic ‘big’ games, from some of the same players as well. Playing largely without the ball, looking to hit quickly after recovering possession and very rarely playing out from the back suits these players. We know that. But that can only take this United team so far- q.e.d. the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.
You cannot ask this group of players to dominate possession successfully against dogged low blocks. You cannot ask this group of players to play out from the back comfortably against a well-organized pressing opponent- which is what most teams in the league will ask them to do.
Much like signing Varane last season, bar the injuries, he was not as effective as he could have been because of the dross he had around him. It is to the surprise of no one that Varane had his best game in a United shirt in the Liverpool win, with 3 different defenders starting in the back line with him. The same will apply to Casemiro. If you stick him in midfield with McFred (this is the Premier League, not national games with Brazil), the lad is going to have a difficult time hitting the high level of performance that this team needs. Captain Fernandes, in as much as his Liverpool performance was gritty and breathless, cannot be depended on to do this every game and Eriksen is at some point going to slow down.
Assuming United have decent runs in the knockout competitions, they may anticipate roughly 55-60 games this season. Add a World Cup into the mix and we have physical fatigue + injuries +mental fatigue + national team distractions = squad problems. Where is the rotation in midfield going to come from? Who is going to replace Casemiro when he needs a rest or gets injured AND maintain the higher level of performance that this squad NEEDS?
To stop at the signing of Casemiro is a mistake (although it would be just like the Glazers). Somewhere, somehow, the midfield of this team has to be improved- else the season will be another one with more downs than ups. Talk of Antony and Gakpo is all well and good, but that’s not where the issues will be for this team. There simply has to be more upgrades to the heart of midfield.
Barcelona will likely continue to suffer from the malaise of financial problems. United should be in for FDJ until the last second of August 31st. The oft touted Milinkovic-Savic is an option, although these links draw the memory back to the days of the fanciful Strootman/Sneijder rumors. United may as well sell Jimmy Garner if ETH is not going to trust him with minutes.
Perhaps some random name will come up (as inexplicably as Rabiot did a couple of weeks ago) but United must pull the trigger on someone. The owners are either going to give ETH the best chance of breaking back into the top 4 (at minimum, if not compete for a trophy), or they are going to fail another manager for the umpteenth time.