Casemiro vs Bruno: The ‘creative tension’ driving Manchester United

Bruno Fernandes Jadon Sancho

The sight of Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro rowing for full-time in Manchester United’s game against Aston Villa shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been paying attention this season.

Their discussion was similarly heated after the Carabao Cup final, when Casemiro suggested Fernandes should have fitted in with Jadon Sancho in a late attack. Casemiro also glared at Fernandes when he received a booking for a foul at Crystal Palace that earned him a suspension. Fernandes had pulled out of a tackle seconds earlier.

The origin of this recent change was found at the halfway line in stoppage time. Fernandes had possession but instead of running to the corner or passing, he tried to beat Villa midfielders and although he was halfway successful he was ultimately robbed of the ball. Casemiro dived to attack Jacob Ramsey but Villa countered and eventually won a free-kick in a dangerous position outside the box.

United were aiming to become the first team to keep a clean sheet against Villa in the Premier League since Unai Emery took charge, but Casemiro felt compelled to underline his anger at Fernandes’ decision.

Fernandes of course gave as best he could and seemed to indicate he was spinning the ball to give Casemiro a chance to run for it. After voicing their grievances, the pair ended with a hug.

You could call it a form of creative tension. These are two competitive players who can claim to be United’s standout players this season. Her public brawls (both after victories) are a sign of her desire to get better.

Fernandes’ thoroughbred approach can irritate his team-mates and Sancho was seen apparently telling him to ‘stop whining’ in the first half against Villa. They seemed to get along better after the Portugal international scored the only goal of the game in the 39th minute.

Bruno Fernandes Jadon Sancho

Manager Erik ten Hag would rather let his players loose on each other than simmer in silence.

“A few weeks ago there were questions about his captaincy, it’s crazy,” said Fernandes’ Ten Hag. “He’s such a great leader, he gives the team so much energy. His determination, his passion, his resilience, we need players like that if you want to win games and do trophies.”

Ten Hag struck a similar tone with Casemiro, who had suffered a dip in performance in recent games but was back at his best against Villa. “Nobody always plays brilliantly. He’s playing at such a high level,” said Ten Hag. “In a couple of suspended games his rhythm broke and he had to come back. Today it was the Casemiro that we have seen all season.

“He brings so much organisation, composure, determination and his leadership is so important. Others go with him. We saw a determined and passionate team in the second half who want to win more than their opponents.”

Players who carve out those finer details in clutch moments will be instrumental in guiding United to higher performances.

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Christian Eriksen is the third key cog in United’s midfield. The Fernandes-Casemiro-Eriksen triumvirate now have a record 16 wins and four draws from 20 starts combined, although this game featured a slight change from the usual configuration – Fernandes was on the right wing, with Marcel Sabitzer as No. 10. It meant another threat to Villa’s Highline.

Fernandes kept chasing after him and while the ball didn’t always find its way to him, that movement made Villa back out.

Ten Hag explained why he switched Fernandes, who also played on the flank in the 4-2 Carabao Cup win over Villa.

“From the side he’s a very good presser, he understands the moment when he has to close, when he has to put an opponent in trouble,” said Ten Hag. “Even if our press is beaten, he backtracks. He can play between the lines and then get behind the lines. He has so many skills, it’s a pleasure to work with players like him.”

In the middle, Eriksen’s pass was crisp and he was successful on 50 attempts out of 60 (83 percent accuracy). Fans purred at a pass around the corner to Tyrell Malacia.

(Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Casemiro, however, was the standout. He made 50 of 57 passes, the most accurate of the top six players (88 percent). He also made seven recoveries and two interceptions.

He started purposefully, winning the ball twice in the first eight minutes from Ramsey, who was 10 years his junior. The first duel in the last third earned United a throw-in. The second turned the ball over for United to break.

In the 15th minute, Casemiro flicked a pass from the deep right to Fernandes, whose first cross landed too far ahead of Sabitzer at the far post.

Shortly after, with Fernandes down through injury, Casemiro dived in to commit a foul that stopped Villa’s counterattack, much to the delight of Villa fans nearby. He managed to avoid a warning.

Casemiro hit the bar with a good shot, delivered a backheel tackle to Douglas Luiz in a moment when United looked vulnerable and then won the header from Emiliano Martinez’ goal kick that sent Marcus Rashford to United’s winner. Fernandes demonstratively stood in front of the Villa fans after the goal.

Casemiro is less of a provocateur to opposing fans than to his own teammates.

He didn’t hit all of his long passes, but he did hit Sancho right over the top, another flying one to Rashford and a threaded one to Malacia on the left wing.

More than anything, it was the uglier side of the game that endeared it to fans. They chanted his name in the 72nd minute as he sprinted to kick the ball into touch before deliberately playing it off Bertrand Traore to give United a throw-in. In stoppage time, he ran out to block Lucas Digne’s cross.

Then there were those last-minute tackles trying to defuse Villa’s attacks. By then, things had gotten a little frayed for United and Casemiro wasn’t shy about telling Fernandes so.

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