There was so much positivity regarding Manchester United heading into the new season.
Erik ten Hag’s feet were now firmly under the desk having guided the Red Devils back into the Champions League and won a trophy in his first season.
This was, therefore, meant to be a campaign that extended on those good vibes, but seven games in and United are staring down the barrel of their worst start to a season in 34 years.
Ten Hag is searching for an answer, yet that aforementioned desk is no longer very organised.
It’s covered in coffee stains, filled with scrunched-up bits of paper and torn-up post-it notes. His best-laid plans and blueprints are out the window and his side resembles a sinking ship.
The Dutchman may well have navigated back-to-back wins over Burnley and then Crystal Palace in the cup in midweek, but their troublesome form prior to those wins reared its ugly head on Saturday afternoon.
A consecutive game with Palace was on the menu, but it did not taste so sweet this time. Rather, Ten Hag and his side were left with a bitter taste in the mouth following Joachim Andersen’s scorching effort that ensured the Eagles left the north west with a 1-0 victory.
The finger of blame could be pointed at many things. Defensive injuries haven’t helped, neither have off-field issues.
Marcus Rashford can’t seem to find his form of last term and Rasmus Hojlund, as energetic and exciting as he has been, is still adjusting to English football.
The former is one man they should be able to count on more often, but the fact of the matter is that United are being let down by their senior players. Case in point; Casemiro.
How is Casemiro playing this season?
Last term it looked as though the Red Devils could not cope when the Brazilian was missing from the side.
Indeed, as of April 2023, Ten Hag’s squad had lost four of the eight games Casemiro was absent from.
When he played, they had only lost three of 19 fixtures. The issue, therefore, was trying to find someone to fill his boots.
A calming influence who could also pack a punch in the middle of the park, United need their £350k-per-week man to rediscover the form that saw him named as the best holding midfielder in the world, according to Fifpro.
The former Real Madrid star stood out against Roy Hodgson’s side only a few days ago, scoring and laying on an assist.
In fact, Casemiro has been a fantastic asset offensively throughout the embryonic stages of 2023/24.
He bagged twice against Bayern Munich in Europe and even found the net against Nottingham Forest. Clearly, there is little to scrutiny when analysing how well the 31-year-old is playing when he gets forward.
However, the abilities that saw him celebrated as one of the best defensive midfielders on the planet are missing.
Last term, Casemiro prevailed in a whopping 81.4% of his duels. His regression this season has been remarkable, winning just 28.1%.
That speaks volumes of a player who simply isn’t offering United enough in the areas they really need.
One United content producer, Casey Evans, perhaps put it best, saying on social media: “It’s hilarious how Casemiro is our only goal threat but he’s also a massive liability doing what should actually be his job on the pitch.”
How did Casemiro play against Palace?
After starring against the Londoners in midweek, he truly let his manager down on this occasion, squandering possession and failing to break up the play adequately.
He was given a horrendous 4/10 player rating by the MEN’s Samuel Luckhurst, who reserved some particularly damning words:
‘Booked early on in the game and seemed to play within himself against a team he was sent off against last season. Played some inexplicable passes.’
That inexplicable and wasteful nature was best summed up by Casemiro’s 18 concessions of the ball.
For a player of his quality and stardom that is a remarkable number. For context, on average this season he is losing the ball 13.3 times per game.
They have done the dirt work fantastically well this season and it will come as no surprise to see their sides leading the way in the Premier League this season.
When it comes to ball recovery, both Bissouma (6.7 per game) and Rodri (7.5) better Casemiro too, who makes six per match on average.
In that area, he still evidently thrives but in the main, his defensive play this season has left plenty to be desired. He may have made four successful tackles and won seven ground duels at Old Trafford this weekend but he also gave away four fouls.
You may well suggest with such a desire to contest in physical battles, the law of averages dictates you’ll give away plenty of fouls. Yet, last season, he only gave away 1.7 per match. Clearly, something is going wrong for Casemiro this season.
It may well be the overall chaos at the football club right now, but either way, Ten Hag needs his defensive midfielder to do more of what he’s really been signed for. After all, when on song as he was in 2022/23, United are a great deal harder to beat.