Manchester United head to the Emirates Stadium to take on top of the Premier League Arsenal this Sunday, but will have to do so at a major disadvantage due to missing Casemiro.
The Brazilian has been a catalyst for Erik ten Hag’s side since his arrival from Real Madrid in the dying days of the summer transfer window, seeing their side transform from European spot contenders to potential Premier League title challengers in the early months of the season.
But, a reckless challenge against Crystal Palace in the dying minutes, to prevent Wilfried Zaha baring down on goal, saw Casemiro handed his fifth yellow card of the season, which subsequently landed him a one game ban that he will have to serve at perhaps the worst possible time for the Red Devils.
Ten Hag remained bullish on his side’s chances in the clash, telling reporters that:
“We beat Arsenal last time without Casemiro. We have an idea of how to deal with that”.
However, there is no doubt that they will miss the influence of the decorated midfielder, and Ten Hag will have to find a way to replace him and what he does in the Red Devils XI.
We took a look at three options that the Dutchman could opt for this Sunday.
Tried and tested
With Donny Van De Beek also out injured for the remainder of the season through a knee injury, Ten Hag is down to bare bones in central midfield, and should he be keen to retain his usual 4-2-3-1 formation, Casemiro could simply be replaced by Scott McTominay, partnered by Fred in a return to last season’s ‘McFred’ combination.
However, this could prove problematic against Arsenal’s midfield trio, with the Gunners having cut through a midfield two at will in the north London derby, something which left Antonio Conte’s side woefully exposed.
With Oleksandr Zinchenko often stepping into midfield from left-back for Mikel Arteta’s side, a new strategy may be needed.
In the Manchester Derby, Ten Hag sprung a surprise when he opted for a midfield three, rather than the double pivot that Red Devils fans are used to seeing. Fred replaced Antony, which in turn saw Bruno Fernandes move into a wider position on the right flank.
It worked wonders, with their rivals forced to move the ball into the wide areas and further from goal, and though it was dismantled in the second half far more regularly, it ultimately saw United come away with all three points courtesy of two late goals.
Playing against a side managed by Mikel Arteta, Pep Guardiola’s protoge, this weekend, Ten Hag could well look to field the same system and hope for the same result in north London.
An Ajax connection
Whether it be a midfield trio or a double pivot that Ten Hag opts for in north London, he could have a surprise up his sleeve in the form of Arsenal summer target Lisandro Martinez.
‘The Butcher’, who made his return from the World Cup against Crystal Palace, has been an excellent addition for the Red Devils in central defence, but could take up a new role this weekend.
At Ajax, when the pair worked together, Martinez was shifted into defensive midfield on 22 occasions, including in the Champions League, and the diminutive 25-year-old would certainly offer some bite and composure on the ball in the middle of the pitch.
In a trio with Fred and Christian Eriksen, his presence in midfield could be the best option for Manchester United to replicate what they are set to lose in Casemiro’s absence.