A late comeback against Borussia Monchengladbach spared Real Madrid from an embarrassing defeat in the Champions League group stages, which would’ve added misery to an already underwhelming season so early on.
No disrespect to Monchengladbach, but clawing to a late 2-2 draw is simply not good enough for the most dominant squad in Europe over the past decade, especially when they’ve endured such a poor start in La Liga, too.
While the Spanish top flight was once deemed a two-horse race between two of football’s greatest teams, the door has been blown open this season while Madrid and Barcelona battle out in a competition to see who’s in a worse state.
Casemiro was the man responsible for Madrid’s desperate comeback on Tuesday night, stealing the headlines as he set up one and scored the equaliser in fine fashion. It was yet show stopping display from the Brazilian – one that the showstopper himself Shawn Michaels would be proud of – and it’s become a regular fixture of his game. Casemiro has been operating at a level above most midfielders in Europe for a while, and yet it feels like it’s taken this long for him to earn his party.
Signing for Real in January 2013 as a young Brazilian with a shed load of potential, Casemiro had to do a lot of convincing before he found himself in the main event. An initial loan deal was made permanent after impressing in the B-team set-up, but he was then sent to Porto on loan for the 2014/15 season. He thrived in Portugal and returned to Madrid the following season, but struggled to find a way into the side as a starter until Zinedine Zidane arrived for the first time in 2016.
Until that point, Casemiro’s powers were admittedly limited. A tireless presence at the base of the midfield, the Brazilian was always well positioned and and a physical, aggressive presence deployed to break down opposition attacks and dominate the middle of the park off the ball. His technical ability was in question, though, and he was allowed to get away with these limitations when Real were still able to play a midfield involving a peak Luka Modric and Toni Kroos who did the bulk of the creative legwork.
This changed under Zidane’s tutelage, however, and it’s seen the 28-year-old blossom into arguably Europe’s most well-rounded midfielder. While Casemiro was considered the utility man under the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Rafa Benitez, he thrived under the Frenchman and his technical ability improved significantly.
Given more freedom, the Brazilian would begin to operate box-to-box which gets the best out of his incredible engine, while also sharpening tools such as his passing and anticipation, and his dribbling. He also unearthed an absolute rocket of a long shot, which was on display in the 2017 Champions League final as he bagged in their 4-1 victory.
Since then, Casemiro has gotten better year upon year, while the Merengues have slowly gone the other way. The kingdom is beginning to crumble around him somewhat, but that hasn’t affected his performances. Instead, the Brazilian has seamlessly taken on the increased responsibility and stepped up amid the steady declines of Modric and Kroos, becoming Real’s fall guy in the heart of the team while young Federico Valverde continues to learn the tricks of the trade following his breakthrough.
Despite still often starting in a deeper role, he can flourish creatively with a sharp passing range over long distances. Five goals and five assists from the base of midfield last season isn’t a bad return by any means, especially when he’s still expected to fulfil defensive duties alongside Valverde.
His transition from a hard hitting energy source at the base of the midfield into a leader who takes games by the scruff of the neck has been nothing short of sensational and is still somehow going unnoticed. While the likes of Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema often earn the applause for holding Real Madrid together in testing times, it’s Casemiro that’s truly keeping their head above the water. Popping up to single-handedly claw back a point for Real in the Champions League is simply more proof of that, and surely creates a case for him being the most complete midfielder in Europe.
At 28, Casemiro is heading into his best years, meaning he probably still isn’t quite at the peak of his powers, which is absurd. Real Madrid are on a slippery slope, but their solid foundations mean they’re still some way from being in as deep a mess as rivals Barcelona.
It’s imperative that Los Blancos keep a hold of their Brazilian maestro and rebuild around him while they still can. His powers could prove key to any potential European revival for Real Madrid in the coming seasons.