Carlos Casemiro’s Real Madrid career can be divided into two phases and it can be divided by the 2017-18 season. Before the end of 2017-18, Casemiro’s role at Real Madrid had been different from the one he had from 2018-19 until present day. Casemiro barely played in his first senior season under Carlo Ancelotti in 2013-14. He spent the following season on loan at Porto while Real Madrid got cooked after January, suffering the need for the exact profile of Casemiro which they lacked. Well, that was rectified straight away as he was included in Rafa Benitez’s squad the following season.
Benitez in fact tried to give Casemiro starts as the single pivot along with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric but the pressure from up above didn’t allow him to do it for a prolonged period of time. When Zinedine Zidane came through the door for the first time, he started giving minutes to Casemiro and this time, the higher-ups had to shut up about their demand to play more flamboyant XIs. They were in no situation to pick the starting XI for Zidane, especially because of the circumstance in which the frenchman was called upon.
In Zidane’s first stint, Casemiro was the traditional central-defensive midfielder with a destroyer profile. Real Madrid already had an elite ball-progressor in their backline in Sergio Ramos. Marcelo too was still very much at his creative peak during this time. Dani Carvajal, offensively, was more reliable. These profiles warranted for wing-based approaches in most games where just getting the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo lurking in the box would suffice.
Casemiro didn’t need to be part of the build-up phases as much during Zidane’s first stint as he was needed in subsequent years. His primary role was to screen and recover the ball and support the full-backs to create numerical balance whenever needed. He was an excellent defensive presence in Madrid’s box as well.
From Zidane’s second stint on, things started to change. It’s true that the team’s offensive struggles warranted zipping up the defense like Real Madrid did in 2019-20, but the build-up approach also needed tweaks. We mustn’t forget Real Madrid was suddenly void of quality on both wings as Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale were almost non-existent while it took a lot of time for one of Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo Goes to finally take a leap in 2021. This affected the build-up phase in the defensive third and mid-third.
With more experience and responsibility as one of the veterans now, Casemiro was expected to be an integral part of building up play. However, his on-ball deficiencies constantly kept this approach on its toes. As the anchor, the natural approach would be to have Casemiro drop between the two center-backs in the first phase of build-up but that had rarely happened at Real Madrid. It’s always either Luka Modric or Toni Kroos doing this job while Casemiro temporarily occupies more advanced areas. Zidane would even have him deployed at number 10 as a hail-mary of sorts sometimes during 2020-21.
Since Ancelotti’s return, the role of Casemiro didn’t change drastically and the approach is reminiscent of Zidane. Even with this unique approach, where Real Madrid’s lone anchor is almost deliberately kept away from the ball during the initial phases of build-up, it works. It works because Casemiro’s defensive IQ is off the charts. The Brazilian also contributes to attacks in ways that often go under the radar. If he is focused and fit like how he was at the UEFA Super Cup Final, he makes up for every on-ball deficiency with immaculate and one-of-a-kind defensive assurance.
Some quick stats to close this one out:
- Casemiro is in the 98th percentile (among midfielders) for tackles in the defensive third.
- 94th percentile for goal-creating - actions by drawing a foul!
- 97th percentile for aerial duals won (%).
- 95th percentile for completed long balls!
There would be an array of detailed discourses and discussions from all vantage points regarding his potential move away from Real Madrid. However, I wanted to briefly mention my take on Casemiro’s transfer saga and it is the most simple one: Despite acquiring Tchouameni, I still consider Casemiro to be absolutely necessary for this team due to his unique profile.