Casemiro’s improvement gives Real Madrid the tactical edge
“Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?” is what Zinedine Zidane asked Florentino Perez when the billionaire civil engineer sanctioned the purchase of David Beckham and the sale of Claude Makelele.
15 years down the line, we have realised – to full extent – as to how true this analogy stands. In those barren years in the Champions League, the one thing that always stood out was a lack of a world class holding player.
Even in the league triumphs, Real Madrid needed a certain Mahamadou Diarra to be the fulcrum on which their glorious campaigns were built. It was only after his devastating knee-injury that the Blancos ceded their domestic superiority to Barcelona.
After that, the next time Real Madrid won the league title was in 2012 – and Sami Khedira was one of the foundations that provided the steel to the backline. Five years later, the Galacticos won their first double in the modern era – and Carlos Henrique Casemiro was/is the pillar on which Real Madrid’s tactical system was/is built.
The 'Case' of Carlos Henrique
In a team that consists players of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric's ilk, it is easy to forget the players that do the dirty work, who are willing to sacrifice their freedom so that the players around them flourish – and Casemiro is one such player.
When he was signed from Sao Paulo in 2012, it was a rather absurd signing to many. For all the talent that he had, he was a player that had fallen from grace due to his questionable attitude. Fans saw his arrival more as an attempt to boost Castilla – Real Madrid’s second team – in their quest for promotion rather than a future-lookout for the first team.
But a mixture of faith and fate had something else in store for him. The privilege of playing for a club of Real Madrid’s stature truly astounded the Brazilian and he immediately turned diligent in his efforts. A loan season at Porto brought back the best in him and Real Madrid’s collapse that very season made it apparent that they needed a holding player.
And so Casemiro was retained and has been a first-team player ever since.
The present glories of Real Madrid might have made the fans fall in love with Florentino Perez, but his lavish ways and negligence towards defensive players were never really appreciated by some of the fans. However, to an extent, many of those fans mirror the views that Perez once had.
The reason why Perez sold Makelele was because, in Perez’s own words, “his technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and ninety percent of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways - he wasn't a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres.”
While some fans still bemoan Perez’s decision, some of those very fans criticise Casemiro’s lack of technical ability. At times, he is very rash and doesn’t really ooze much intelligence, but he always intimidates the opponents, always represents a force that can’t be easily avoided.
However, against Manchester United in the European Super Cup, he showed something different, something that surprised many of the viewers. He has already matured a lot at the Bernabeu in terms of decision-making, but his passing and attacking display stunned many fans.
The Brazilian was making more forward runs – which led Madrid to score their first goal of the game through him – and spent more time in the opponent’s half than ever before. It was as though he was on a one-man mission to prove to the world that he is not just a one-sided defensive player.
And, to an extent, he succeeded.
At one point in the game, he played a precise through-ball to Gareth Bale that put him one-on-one with David De Gea. The Welshman hit the cross-bar with the resulting shot, but it displayed the new-found composure that Casemiro had on the ball.
Almost often last season, he exuded a sense of fear whenever he had the ball. He immediately passed it to the man closest to him without even looking up. Against United, however, he constantly looked up and evaluated his options.
Now, this is something very exciting for Real Madrid. Casemiro’s improvement gives Los Blancos a flurry of options. If he continues to improve the way he showed in Macedonia, he could be used as a box-to-box midfielder in crucial games.
It is this element of surprise that gives Zidane a tactical variety by playing the same system. Last season, it was widely expected that Marcos Llorente would take over from the Brazilian due to the former’s ability on the ball.
However, Casemiro’s improvement changes all that. He could actually be used alongside Llorente now and be given further freedom to make forward runs to dismantle the tactical setup of the opponents.
Whatever be the case, whatever be the system, one thing is certain: Casemiro’s improvement is an element of surprise that no team can prepare themselves from. Off-the-ball runs from deep midfield are the hardest to pick for any opposition and Casemiro’s newfound ability to pass and finish will give the Blancos further edge in crunch situations.