After a disappointing week in which Manchester United took one point from six on their trip to London, it’s pretty clear that Erik Ten Hag needs reinforcements in midfield.
It has been an age-old problem for several years now, alleviated somewhat by the introduction of former Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro. The Brazil international has been hugely important to Manchester United and has changed the team’s fortunes, but there is clearly a different feel to the way they play without him.
After Casemiro picked up his fifth yellow card of the season at Crystal Palace, where Manchester United conceded a last-minute equaliser, fans feared the worst of the weekend against the Gunners fly without it.
It is no stretch to suggest that Casemiro is the glue, or cement as Ten Hag likes to say, in the team, and that he is fundamental to the way the team plays on the front foot. Exceptional at sniffing out danger and stopping it at the source, Casemiro is also widely recognized for his transitional play and the early moves he makes when breaking up opposition attacks.
At the Emirates, when Manchester United came away with a narrow 3-2 defeat, it felt as if it was a ping pong match at times. From one end of the pitch to the other, with little control in central areas – which is exactly where Casemiro would be operating if he hadn’t picked up that costly yellow card.
As seen with Casemiro’s replacement, Scott McTominay’s performance was heavily criticized afterwards. A player who has struggled over the past two seasons at Manchester United and is likely to be moved on in the summer.
The Red Devils have struggled mightily for quality additions in midfield, but the Ten Hag signings of Casemiro and Christian Eriksen have eased some of the pressure and made the squad much more balanced.
However, as shown, Eriksen struggles to keep the intensity going for a full game, and has never been a master of the defensive side of the game. Behind Eriksen and Casemiro sit Fred and McTominay, and the latter is not good enough. For a club that wants to operate in all competitions at the highest level and challenge for honours, it is not good enough to select a rotation.
Ten Hag know this and will be urging the club – who are likely to have new owners on July 1 – to bring in new recruits in midfield. Frenkie de Jong, from FC Barcelona, will be a player that the club will try again, even if they failed to get his signature last summer.
There will be a number of targets Manchester United will be looking to pursue at the end of the season, with the likelihood of bringing in two for competition between places.
The Dutch manager has done a fantastic job of turning the club’s fortunes around from relegation in a six-month period, but there is no substitute for quality in the squad he will demand next season.