Casemiro is Key – and other stories from an impressive win vs. Forest

Casemiro celebrates with his teammates vs. Forest

Manchester United’s first two games following the World Cup in Qatar could not have gone much better. The Red Devils started the Christmas week with a convincing 2-0 cup win vs. high-flying Championship outfit Burnley. Four days later, Erik Ten Hag’s men beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 in a performance teeming with quality and excitement. Rashford, Martial and Fred supplied the goals and a stunning display across the midfield provided United fans with plenty of optimism as New Year approaches and the Premier League fixtures begin to pile up.

Erik Ten Hag braving the torrential Manchester rain on Tuesday night. (Photo by Team Talk)

Another Casemiro Masterclass

It has become clear in his short spell at United that Casemiro is, in his manager’s eyes, a crucial part of Manchester United‘s game plan. A modern throwback; a dynamic, energetic passer and a brutish tackler; Casemiro is everything a modern central-midfielder should be. Erik ten Hag knows this, and he can count his lucky stars that the 30-year-old Brazilian decided to plump for Old Trafford in the summer.

He provided a sublime display vs. Forest that left fans on swooning. He was key in the build up to Martial‘s goal, provided ruthless security against Forest’s lively attackers and slid a wonderful through ball into Fred’s path to secure United’s win. Keeping him fit and happy at Old Trafford is high on Ten Hag’s priority list.

Casemiro is quickly becoming a fan-favourite at Old Trafford. (Photo by Give Me Sport)

Only content when his team are in control, Casemiro provides intelligent coverage of the game in front of him. To provide an overused cliche, he makes everyone around him better. Bruno Fernandes is allowed greater freedom to roam. Christian Eriksen isn’t forced into defensive work as frequently. The back four behind him have a trustworthy, reliable screen in front of them. Perhaps most crucially, the Brazilian provides his teammates with a huge lift in important games, of which there will be several in the coming months. Day-in, day-out in the training ground, who better to look up to than this serial winner.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka has a future at United

Over the last two games, Aaron Wan-Bissaka has featured and impressed for United. Before this, he had been struggling with fitness – he had lost his place in the first team to Diogo Dalot. In fact, these two appearances were Wan Bissaka’s first under his new boss. It was universally accepted in United circles that the full-back was on his way out of Old Trafford. Former club Crystal Palace and Wolves are keen on his signature. 

Aside from Wan-Bissaka and Dalot, Ten Hag’s firm first-choice, United are light in right-back options. It’s unclear whether Brandon Williams’ future lies at United. Should Wan Bissaka leave, his manager would be forced to play Dalot twice a week for the rest of the season – a dubious prospect. 

Wan Bissaka’s acrobatic cross provided Christian Eriksen with a tap-in vs. Burnley. (Photo by M.E.N)

Wan Bissaka impressed in both the 2-0 cup win vs. Burnley and in the league vs. Forest. In the former, he played a sumptuous volleyed cross into Eriksen’s path for United’s first goal post-World Cup. Often criticised for his ineptitude on the ball in attacking phases, will Ten Hag stick with his second-choice full-back in Dalot’s absence, which is believed to be weeks, not months? 

Shaw’s future role?

There were lots of heads being scratched an hour before kick-off. The team news confused many, with Ten Hag opting for three full-backs – Shaw, Wan Bissaka and Malacia. It was later clarified pre-match that Shaw would be accompanying Varane as a left-sided centre-back, a career first for the 27-year-old. 

Luke Shaw made his United debut at 19-years-old – he’s since made over 230 appearance for The Red Devils. (Photo by The Independent)

Shaw, who’s midway through his ninth season at United, has made a habit for club and country of consistency, calmness on the ball and a decent level of concentration while defending. His 6 foot 1 inch frame also does not hurt. He showed this and more in droves vs. Forest. Shaw never once looked out of place, sweeping, covering and oftentimes bringing the ball out of defence in a similar style to World Cup-winning absentee Lisandro Martinez.

Could this be a future role for Luke Shaw once he hits 30 and his characteristic stamina wanes? The win vs. Forest indicates it is something that Ten Hag should certainly consider.

Rashford can hit 20 goals

When Marcus Rashford is fit, firing and full of joy, there are not many better sights in football.

To an extent, every United fan of a certain age is Marcus Rashford. Brought up in United’s youth setup surrounded by superstars, trophies and success, the last decade has been a difficult reminder that football is fickle and cruel, and glory is fleeting. His boyhood club has put him through the wringer in recent times – it is fair to say Marcus Rashford lost his mojo. He will hit 350 United games before trophies are handed out in May and, working under his fifth United coach, Rashford appears to have finally found his zenith, his niche. 

Rashford had previosuly cut a frustrated and disheartened figure at United. (Photo by The Guardian)

Playing off the striker, Rashford is the ideal candidate for a classic inside-left. Ten Hag makes superstars of this ilk. At 25 years old, a few years away from his peak, Rashford is in contention to be United’s leading man for years to come. His tally of 10 goals so far is acceptable, and Rashford, whose best goal tally in a season is 22, will be looking to build on his impressive recent form and the faith his manager is placing on him.

What’s next for United?

With only a point separating United and fourth-place Spurs, and Spurs having played a game more, there is plenty to be optimistic about around Carrington. Wolves, Bournemouth and Everton, all in the next fortnight, will provide United with a chance to cement their top-four intentions, whilst a very favourable League Cup quarter-final tie against Charlton has given Ten Hag a decent shot at some silverware in his maiden season in charge. Should the sense of momentum and direction he has provided continue, United’s fans will hope there are many seasons to come under the guidance of Erik Ten Hag.

Author: Sam Talbot

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