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Casemiro is starting to do what Roy Keane did for Wayne Rooney at Manchester United

Casemiro had to wait for his opportunity at Manchester United but is now establishing himself as one of their most important players.

The saying goes that the darkest hour is just before dawn, and most Manchester United fans will agree that there have been few bleaker moments in the club’s recent history than August’s shellacking by Brentford.

United had already succumbed to Graham Potter’s Brighton at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season, and the four goals David de Gea shipped inside 35 minutes in West London extinguished any optimism for the campaign that remained from July’s encouraging four-game tour of Thailand and Australia.

United won three matches and drew one on the other side of the globe, but after losing to Atletico Madrid and drawing with Rayo Vallecano days before the Premier League season began, the defeat by Brentford marked a fifth winless game for United under their new manager.

Managers and players, past and present, affirm that pre-season results do not matter and that preparatory fixtures are primarily arranged to build fitness, but when United’s slump rolled into the season itself, it was clear that Erik ten Hag’s team was one with a few components missing.

The manner of that loss to Brentford will live long in the memory of United fans but the reality is that it led to significant investment in the team that likely otherwise would not have been made.

New signings Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen both lined up at the Gtech Community Stadium while Tyrell Malacia came off the bench at the interval, but at the time the prospect of Antony arriving felt like a pipe dream and Casemiro’s name had not even been mentioned as a possible target.

Nine days later Casemiro was embracing Roy Keane on the Old Trafford touchline prior to the rousing win over Liverpool, and another 10 days after that Antony’s move from Ajax was announced. Together, they could end up costing United £155million in transfer fees.

Antony has lined up in every game he has been available for, scoring in three, while Casemiro had to bide his time but has started United’s last four league games, with United picking up a respectable eight points from meetings with Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham and Chelsea.

Antony arrived without a challenger on the right wing but Casemiro faced the task of displacing Scott McTominay, who was in genuinely good form leading up to the derby. Ten Hag was naïve to persist with McTominay as the sole holding midfielder in United’s only other thrashing of the season and United’s foundations are clearly more stable with the Brazilian anchoring the midfield.

Watching Casemiro in full flight makes one wonder why United muddled through with makeshift options in his position for so many years. Nemanja Matic is the most-recent genuine holder United signed, in 2017, but he did not come close to reaching the heights he scaled with Chelsea.

Against Chelsea on Saturday, even without his goal, Casemiro underlined his credentials as one of United’s most important players, breaking up play and passing the ball forward at every opportunity. Wayne Rooney once said Keane was the best forward passer he played with and Casemiro is developing a reputation for his incisive balls into United’s more creative players.

At Goodison Park earlier in October, it was Casemiro who set Cristiano Ronaldo away to score his 700th career goal, winning the ball back after he had been dispossessed and sliding his old Real Madrid teammate in down the inside left channel.

With Casemiro in the team, United’s centre-backs are more assured, as are their other midfielders, with the likes of Eriksen, Fred and Bruno Fernandes given the freedom to venture further forward, knowing they have a world-class operator sitting in behind them to sweep up.

Casemiro has some way to go to endear himself to United supporters like Keane did, but if he continues on his current trajectory, he’ll be just fine. The darkest hour is just before dawn.


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