Football

Erik ten Hag could have surprise Manchester United solution to Casemiro suspension vs Arsenal

Man Utd take on Arsenal on Sunday and are without the suspended Casemiro after he picked up a fifth booking vs Crystal Palace.

Just as swiftly as they appeared, Manchester United’s faint Premier League title aspirations may have been snuffed out.

It’s not as simple as that, of course, as United’s excellent winning streak was always going to end sooner or later and there is plenty of the season still to go. Yet, Wednesday’s draw with Crystal Palace felt like a massive opportunity missed to build on growing confidence and press the advantage over Manchester City. Had Erik ten Hag’s side won at Selhurst Park, they’d have overtaken their neighbours for the first time in years. For a day at least.

Instead, United squandered chances to kill off the game and looked light on firepower without Marcus Rashford playing to his usual high standard. That’s a problem that may well prove to cost United again in the coming months given Wout Weghorst looks like being the only attacking reinforcement in January, but there is a far more pressing concern.

It’s still too early in the day to say this week could be a defining one in the title race but Sunday’s trip to Arsenal is definitely a massive match within it. United could go within five points of the table toppers with a victory but will slip to 11 behind should they lose. That’s a massive gap to make up, especially given the consistency of the Gunners, so a loss at the Emirates would be a significant blow.

Which makes it all the more agonising that midfield lynchpin Casemiro will miss the match. The Brazilian went into Palace on four bookings and some had called for him to be rested in order to avoid the risk of suspension. He started and then late on committed a tackle that would have been bizarre at the best of times as he wrapped his legs around an opponent quite high up and scythed him down.

It was an obvious booking which will now see him be unavailable for Arsenal and leave Ten Hag in quite a bind. Casemiro and Christian Eriksen’s excellent partnership has been the foundation of United’s improvement and they do not play as well with either, but especially Casemiro, not in the side.

That’s largely because their replacements are not of the same calibre. Fred, the likely man to come in, played excellently in the derby victory but was in alongside both of them so wasn’t relied upon to do as much on the ball. The last time he was paired with just Eriksen he was withdrawn with Brentford 4-0 up. Scott McTominay has similar technical deficiencies and the last time he was deployed in the holding role City racked up a 6-1 lead.

Neither of them are an ideal replacement, especially given the quality they’ll be up against, so perhaps Ten Hag can find another unorthodox solution. The Dutchman has already surprised once with his wildcard selections by using Luke Shaw as a centre-back to great effect.

Maybe, just maybe, he could pull off a similar trick by moving Lisandro Martinez into midfield. Martinez’s versatility was downplayed when he was signed as his handful of appearances in midfield for Ajax didn’t go especially well but the 25-year-old has all the tenacity in the tackle of Fred and McTominay but is far better on the ball and in distribution.

United will need to use possession well against such a dangerous side, which makes Martinez a potentially better option despite his inexperience in the role. Shaw could easily fill in again at centre-back with Tyrell Malacia coming in at left-back.

The post Erik ten Hag could have surprise Manchester United solution to Casemiro suspension vs Arsenal appeared first on zululegit.

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