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Casemiro just what Benitez ordered

The Brazilian made a somewhat shock return to the Bernabeu in the summer after a season-long loan with Porto but the early signs are promising.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Eyebrows were raised when Real Madrid brought Casemiro back to the Spanish capital in the summer after a season-long loan spell with Porto but the early signs are that the Brazilian is repaying the faith Rafa Benitez has in him.

Few expected the former Sao Paulo man to make it at the Santiago Bernabeu. His move to Spain in 2013 saw him join Castilla, the club's second string, and he made just three starts for the first team in the 2013-14 season before being loaned out to Portugal.

That loan move seemed to be the beginning of a new chapter in his career but it only acted to catch the attention of those back in Madrid, and those a bit further away in Napoli, too.

The midfielder's performances for Porto were so good that despite the Portuguese club exercising their €15 million purchase option, Madrid exercised their own buy-back clause of €7.5 million. It was a peculiar deal but the signs pointed to the Brazilian being a useful cog in Benitez's plans rather than a player who was going to be overlooked.

So far that has rung true. The 23-year-old may not be a regular starter in the famous white shirt just yet but he has been handed his fair share of opportunities. He has made two starts in La Liga and made three more appearances from the bench, while starting against Malmo in the Champions League. His performances have caught the eye, too.

Against Atletico, Madrid may not have come away with the result they wanted but Benitez did at least come away with the knowledge that the man he brought back to the club in the summer can ‘do a job'. And do it well. Casemiro brushed aside his relative inexperience and youth exuberance to show a performance beyond his years on one of the trickiest stages of all at the Vicente Calderon. He was a positive on a night of some negativity.

Carlos Henrique Jose Francisco Venancio, as his birth certificate reads, provided the kind of support for the back that has been missing in recent seasons. Toni Kroos did a good job in a new position last season, his first at the club, while Luka Modric is the box-to-box man. An out-an-out ball winner was needed last season and in Casemiro, Madrid have just that.

Without being sparkling at the Calderon, he won the balls he needed to and provided a good engine in protecting the back four. He showed maturity, won his tackles, passed the ball on and started all over again. A player in the Claude Makelele mould, if you will. The kind of player Madrid have been lacking and the kind of player key in Benitez's game plan.

That performance against Diego Simeone's side will have convinced Benitez of his qualities and convinced him of his capability in the big matches. Casemiro has returned like a new player and that's in large part down to his season-long stint with Porto.

Julen Lopetegui saw the player's potential and the Brazilian became a key cog in what was a good season for the Portuguese giants. They may have lost out on the title to Benfica but they pushed their great rivals all the way and reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, where they exited against Bayern Munich. Casemiro, seemingly, learned a lot.

His big-game confidence is back and he showed it against Atleti. He showed it in the club's first home match of the season against Betis, too, putting his defensive qualities to one side and providing a superb assist for Gareth Bale to add to the team's tally in what eventually was a comfortable 5-0 victory and the team's first win of the season.

That showed that he is more than capable of coming off the bench and putting in a performance against a ‘lesser' side, with respect to Pepe Mel's men, as well as looking strong and influential in the big games. Casemiro looks like a man for all occasions.

It is, of course, still early days, but the Brazil international is even calling into question just why the club signed Lucas Silva in January. He has also been sent out on-loan after playing a handful of matches in the second half of last season and although he may well impress with Marseille, those who watch Brazil and the Brazilian league seem to think Casemiro is a step ahead.

He has certainly showed that he is a step ahead of Asier Illarramendi, the man who eventually made way for the Brazilian in the summer with a move back to former club Real Sociedad. Few would have placed trust in the Basque-born midfielder producing the kind of intelligent and mature performance Casemiro did at the Calderon.

Now Benitez has more options. The coach has talked numerous times about rotation and about needing fresh legs at the ‘business end' of the season, as well as at the start. Toni Kroos was one player who suffered the most from fatigue last season and now he will get more rest. Luka Modric will also not be overworked. Casemiro is set to be a big help.

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