The murmurs of a title charge were dealt a potentially fatal blow on Wednesday with Manchester United being held to a 1-1 draw by Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
But it was not just the result that hampered the Red Devils on the night. It was the fact that they lost arguably their most influential player for their potential six-pointer against Arsenal on Sunday.
Casemiro saw a yellow card, his fifth of the campaign, for a foul on Wilfried Zaha and he will have to sit out the tie to be played at the Emirates Stadium.
Casemiro suspension is a huge blow
Erik ten Hag’s face said it all as the cameras showed the Dutchman shaking his head in disappointment while assistant coach Steve McClaren sulked back into his chair.
The statistics back up the claim that the Brazilian is indeed one of the main reasons behind United’s dramatic rise up the table. United’s win percentage drops to 33% without the midfield general while United concede 2.3 goals without him as opposed to 0.7 with him.
But the Dutch manager kept a brave face post match and fired a warning shot at the league leaders claiming that the last time United won against the Gunners, it was without Casemiro in their ranks.
Lisandro Martinez used to play as a 6 in ETH system at Ajax before his move to manchester united, put Luke Shaw at LCB and Martinez as a pivot to replace Casemiro. pic.twitter.com/9shBDKmYjY
— Dhilan Mohanlal (@DhilanMohanlal) January 20, 2023
“Casemiro is obviously a really important player for us and he is one of the reasons that we are in the position that we are now.
“We have a squad and we have to fill that gap and make a proper plan and the squad has to fill it. As a team, we already showed how to beat Arsenal.”
McTominay could provide the answer
The Dutchman is known for his tactical awareness and ability to come up with solutions and he will be required to rack his brains to come up with a solution for this major headache.
Scott McTominay is one player who has shown he can handle the pressure when thrown into the deep end. He lacks Casemiro’s presence but when the Brazilian first arrived at Old Trafford, the academy graduate managed to keep him out of the team for a fair few games.
The Scottish international has the physical presence to deal with threats and is quite mobile. He does lack the passing range but in a game where United are expected to have little of the ball, McTominay could do the job if the manager calls upon him.
He was paired up with Christian Eriksen during the Old Trafford game where United ended up triumphant.
Martinez, an unlikely solution
The other tactical tweak Ten Hag could employ is playing Lisandro Martinez as the defensive pivot. He is defensively much more adept and has the passing ability to break the lines.
In fact, he was used by the former Ajax manager in the same capacity during his first season at the Dutch champions. But the manager opted against using him there just like he did with former United star Daley Blind.
“Daley Blind does not have the running capacity to play in midfield. And neither does Martinez,” Ten Hag had discovered in January 2021, which means the likelihood of the Argentine coping in that position in the Premier League is even less.
The most likely solution could be the adoption of the same kind of tactics that the Dutch boss used to great effect against Manchester City in the Manchester derby.
He played a midfield three while pushing Bruno Fernandes to the right flank to provide additional security when required.
Which means McTominay could be paired with Eriksen and the relentless Fred and that would certainly provide more legs to the United midfield and avoid getting overrun.
It will be quite the uphill task for United to get something out of the game against the side from North London. But United’s history of overcoming odds means one cannot write them off. And under Ten Hag, United have shown time and again that mountains are there to be climbed.
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