Photo: Casemiro in action for Real Madrid (Getty Images)
With his Real Madrid team struggling and looking out of sorts, manager Zinedine Zidane was feeling the pressure building and there was even talk that he could be sacked. The legendary Frenchman knew his team lacked balance and grit especially in the middle of the park with the Toni Kroos/Luka Modric partnership unable to protect their already fragile defense. With the La Liga race seemingly over and a place in the Champions League semi-final up for grabs, Zizou called upon young Brazilian midfielder Casemiro to provide the stability that was desparately needed.
Signed initially on loan back in January 2013, the Sao Paulo youth product made his deal permanent in June of the same year before being sent out on loan to FC Porto for the entirety of last season. The all-action midfielder flourished at the Estadio do Dragao and even earned a placed in Brazil's 2015 Copa America squad. The former Sao Paulo youngster was summoned back to the Santiago Bernabeau by then boss Rafael Benitez who saw the Brazilian as the future of the club and a key member of his midfield set-up. He was then rewarded with a new six-year-deal last August removing any doubt surrounding his future as that deal will keep him at the club until June 2021.
Known for his good positional sense, tracking runners in midfield and his excellent distribution of the ball, the 24-year-old is perhaps the only genuine defensive minded midfielder at the Bernabeau. With his defense getting exposed, it was only a matter of time until Zidane called upon the services of the former Porto midfield maestro. Since he has been called upon the Galacticos defeated Barcelona at the Camp Nou and kept a clean sheet in the second leg of their Champions League tie against Wolfsburg to book their semi-final spot. It is by no means a coincidence that the Madrid giants look a more solid team with the inclusion of the former Porto player.
The 6ft midfielder offers steel and grit in the middle of the park, while always looking to disrupt the rhythm of the opposition in front of the defense. He has the discipline to stay in the 'hole' providing a shield for his defenders with his excellent positional play, willingness to put his foot in a tackle and the ability to track runners from deep in midfield. His presence provides a sense of assurance for Modric and Kroos who gets a platform and license to push a little further up the pitch. With the 24-year-old in the team, the German and the Croat has more license to run the show for Real dictating play and being the supply lines for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
Not only does Casemiro provides a physical presence and defensive shield, he is also very good on the ball, comfortable in tight spaces and has the ability to pick a pass. He often drops deep to collect the ball from his central defenders where he is able to bring the ball out from the back allowing Modric and Kroos to get onto the ball higher up the pitch. There is a lot more balance and coordination about Real Madrid since his inclusion and he seems to be getting better with each game. Evidently his confidence is growing, as he was seen shouting at his teammates in an effort to organize the team to nullify the threat of the opposition.
Casemiro's work and efforts may have gone unnoticed or was over-shadowed by Ronaldo's hat-trick, however his reputation and respect in the dressing room is rising. The so called 'dirty' side of the game doesn't get praised or recognized much by majority in the football world, but not many players can execute as well as the 24-year-old. He has a bright future ahead of him as long as he keeps things simple, plug the gaps and provide the balance that his manager spoke about in the press conference before the game against Wolfsburg at the Bernabeau, then he will find himself in the first eleven every week. For his development, it is hugely important to play every week or as often as possible.
In this present moment, heading into the business end of the season and with every game now seen as a final, his qualities will be extremely important to the Real Madrid cause. There is a new sense of belief around the club that La Liga and Champions League success is a big possibility this season. Against the likes of Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid especially, Casemiro has a significant role to nullify the threat in his defensive third. Zidane seems to be making the best moves at the right time however, his Real Madrid's success or failure may be determined by the form of his brilliant defensive minded Brazilian midfielder.