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Analysis: Should Casemiro start El Clásico against FC Barcelona?

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We take a look at Real Madrid's data with him on and off the pitch thanks to our friends at Sports Matrix.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Nobody expected Casemiro to have such an important role in this Real Madrid squad when Florentino Pérez and Rafa Benítez decided to bring the Brazilian back from his one-year loan deal with FC Porto. He was one of the main reasons behind Porto's improved performances last season, especially thanks to some outstanding displays in the Champions League. Casemiro could be seen everywhere in the midfield getting good steals and shooting from long distance, including some goals off free-kicks.

His physical tools made him a very interesting box-to-box midfielder but it would be fair to state that he never showed great positioning or defensive awareness. Either way, Benítez has used him as the team's anchor and he's always been the player in charge of making the first pass out of the defensive line whenever he has been on the pitch. That has moved Toni Kroos out of the Defensive Midfielder position into a more advanced role, something that affects the way Real Madrid play.

Casemiro's long passes are very effective but his ability to dictate and control the tempo of the game as the team's Defensive Midfielder has to be called into question. Still, it would seem reasonable to think that Real Madrid should defend better with him on the pitch, right? The following data proves this argument wrong.

This interactive analysis by SportsMatrix shows that Real Madrid attack way better without Casemiro on the pitch. Los Blancos have the possession of the ball 64% of the time without him while that stat changes to a 51% when Casemiro plays. Real Madrid also have an average of 4 more scoring chances in open play when Casemiro is not on the pitch and they also average 6 more shots without the Brazilian. This data is based only on La Liga games this season and it's true that Casemiro has played against the tougher teams Real have faced so far: Atlético de Madrid and Sevilla. This could affect the team's numbers with him on the pitch but it also has to be said that he played 90 minutes against teams like Levante, Las Palmas or Espanyol, so it seems safe to say that Real's attacking numbers are worse with him regardless of the opposition.

The defensive data is where this analysis gets really interesting. As you can see in the interactive graphic above, Real Madrid regain possession more often with Casemiro on the pitch and that's something that wasn't very hard to predict. However, Real's opposition average more chances with Casemiro in front. Remember that Atlético did not dominate Real Madrid in the Madrid Derby, so the only tough match that could be affecting Los Blancos' numbers with Casemiro on the pitch is the woeful 3-2 loss against Sevilla. One game does not change the averages that easily, though.

Casemiro is a good player. A very good one, indeed. Real Madrid lacked that kind of midfielder last season. He shines when Real are struggling, as he proved during the last 10 minutes of Real's 1-2 win against Athletic de Bilbao in San Mamés. He is an excellent role player who should have plenty of opportunities to play throughout the rest of the season. Still, it could be problematic to give him a prominent role in this Real Madrid squad considering that Kroos, Modric and the attackers have the skills to dominate the tempo of the game against any given team in Europe.

Benítez might be tempted to start Casemiro against Barcelona but that would keep one player out of James, Bale or Kroos on the bench. Is Casemiro that necessary for El Clásico?