Erik ten Hag faces huge decision over whether to unleash secret weapon in derby against Man City


Casemiro remains the midfielder that Manchester United have longed for and yet the narrative either side of his high-profile move from Real Madrid has been surprising at best and baffling if honest. But will the Brazil destroyer finally be unleashed in the blood and thunder of a Manchester derby?

Having initially set their sights on Declan Rice, despite fears of his valuation, United switched focus to Frenkie de Jong when Erik ten Hag was appointed. However, the Dutchman remains at Barcelona after what was an at times garishly public chase for his signature.

De Jong would have improved United, no doubt, but their porous defence and fragile protection from the engine room (pre-Ten Hag) threw up even bigger question marks. United needed someone to prevent opposition attacks as much as start their own. By hook or crook, they got both.

Eyebrows were raised when Ten Hag took the plunge to sign Christian Eriksen on a free. Eight games later there is no such debate anymore and it seems to be a masterstroke from the newly-appointed United manager.

Whisper it quietly, but recruitment has generally been impressive since Ten Hag was, effectively, given the keys to that department this summer amid ongoing changes behind the scenes. Not only has the team been strengthened, but existing players have raised their levels to present further selection dilemmas.

Eriksen has been the catalyst in that respect. Despite missing out on De Jong this summer, United have that player to unlock defences in tight moments during tighter games, while he has the passing range and game awareness to keep things ticking over steadily when retention is desired.

Perhaps more impressively, the Denmark playmaker has breathed new life into Scott McTominay and he remains in pole position to start alongside Eriksen on derby day. However, while it would be harsh to drop a player enjoying such a rich vein of form as McTominay, these matches are what Casemiro was brought in for and Ten Hag must think long and hard about who he should start.

Star-studded City somehow look more menacing this season, despite letting Raheem Sterling and others go. Erling Haaland has, quite simply, given them a new dimension and they are odds-on favourites to win another title and go closer than ever before to ending their European hoodoo under Pep Guardiola.

But then again, City thought that last term and it was Casemiro who went a long way to stopping them at the last-but-one hurdle before going on to pick up another Champions League medal himself. It was five and out for the 30-year-old as he continues to embrace a new challenge in Manchester.

Casemiro slipped under the radar when paper talk surrounded De Jong throughout this summer and, in reality, that was indicative of his place in the Real squad, unless you ask City supporters… For so long the foil as Toni Kroos and Croatian marvel Luka Modric took centre-stage in a golden era for the European champions, Casemiro battered and bruised City during their latest European elimination.

Omitted for the first leg at the Etihad Stadium as City won a topsy-turvy showdown 4-3, the Brazilian was recalled for the Madrid return and it was Real who progressed. Depending on your allegiance, Casemiro might have seen red that night for some robust challenges on Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden and countless others.

However, that same tenacity and aggression – coupled with big-game experience and an understanding of how to toe the line – will be pivotal this Sunday afternoon. Casemiro has not yet started his United career, but playing a key role on derby day (and winning) should be the ideal stage to ignite him in red.


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