Casemiro, and his role in this squad, has become an increasing enigma.
On one hand he very clearly and definitively provides a decisive defensive presence on the pitch, and has established himself over the last two years as a dominant figure in this role. He is a destroyer. A wall in front of the back four. And when called upon to perform said duty, has by-and-large executed very, very well.
On the other hand, his presence in the squad, and even position on paper, more this year than any previous, is seldom reflective of his actual play on the pitch. And the resulting confusion and discord that it brings to the overall team cohesion is very uncomfortable - both in it’s results as well as contributing to a staggering lack of anyone’s ability to understand it.
For reference, I present to you just two of the many opposing use cases of the “Classic Casemiro” role vs the “Where in the world is Casemiro” role:
PSG Match - The “Classic Case Role”
Leganes Match - The “I have no freaking idea what’s going on here Case Role”
Min 28 (it was beautiful, but is Case really one of our most advanced two players?)
As you can see by the contrasting, but representative examples of PSG and Leganes, when we face top-tier, offensively powerful teams, Casemiro’s presence brings stability and confidence, as well as cohesion.
But, take away the final third threats, and give him more freedom, and he’s all over the place resulting in chaos and just plain weirdness.
I’ll break it down like this - even if he very, very seldom is capable of just plain beauty like the Laganes goal in the 28th minute above, would you really rather have Casemiro playing that advanced position over Modric, Kroos, Kovacic, heck, even Ceballos?
Case frequently leads the team in tackles and interceptions, but the scheme that surrounds him as he presses way up the pitch is fairly fractured. Or at the very least, inhibitive.
Modric frequently is forced to perform herculean two-way play on the right side, and if Isco is on the pitch at the same time, the entire midfield is frenetic and lopsided.
Contrast this what happens when Bale/Asensio/Vazquez flatten and widen the midfield four in a 4-4-2/4-3-3. Team shape, cohesiveness, and fluidity are present alongside decisive vertical play, vs the slow, perimeter circulation that occurs when Casemiro holds the anchor and distributes backwards or sideways.
If he stopped turning the ball over, losing a dribble, making poor passes, and flopping when touched from behind, I could see him as a very effective box-to-box type midfielder. The problem is that aside from the rare half-volley golazo or (seemingly inadvertent) backheel assist, he just doesn’t possess any of those qualities to consistently compliment his stalwart defense.
I think trying to wrap our heads around how the Casemiro roles actually work, is perfectly in keeping with how confusing Zidane’s tactical choices are when it comes to deploying him. Aside from the big-game, clearly-defined destroyer, much of playing him doesn’t really make sense, and there’s no discernible/cohesive system or machine. The unfortunate part is that up until this year, it didn’t really matter because of the unparalleled results the team had. But this year the confusion isn’t just showing, but it’s making us all bleed from the head from the incessant scratching.
Can one of my fellow Managing Madrid authors, or a savvy reader tell me what I’m missing?