Paul Ince grabbed games by the scruff of the neck to help Sir Alex Ferguson win his first titles at Man Utd. Tonight he had to watch while Casemiro continued doing likewise for Erik ten Hag…
Casemiro’s look of gleeful surprise upon scoring from 30 yards mirrored that on thousands of faces in the Stretford End on Saturday night. The midfielder was just delighted to bag a brace; the fans still can’t believe it was for Manchester United.
United supporters have waited for an awfully long time for a double-hard string-puller like Casemiro. They had one in Paul Ince, two decades ago, and they’ve had a few since. But for too long there’s been a gaping void where the Red Devils’ midfield should be. Not any more.
Ince had to watch as a defensive midfielder in red grabbed a game by the scruff of the neck and guided United to a victory more comfortable than it might have been. At half-time, Erik ten Hag needed Casemiro’s influence to avoid any awkwardness after a first-half spent in Reading’s half without getting the reward their domination deserved, even if their creativity and potency did not.
United were cautious, too often ponderous, ignoring good runs to instead continue recycling possession. It seemed they had broken the deadlock and Marcus Rashford thought he’d scored for a record-breaking 10th consecutive game at Old Trafford. But he and United were denied by the unfathomable, infuriating intricacies of the offside law.
The home fans have seen this game before. This very game. It seems like almost every other season United draw Reading at home in the FA Cup. The Royals have caused them few problems but plenty of other lower-ranked opponents have succeeded in frustrating the Red Devils, too often leaving Old Trafford with famous victories.
But this is a different United under Ten Hag, with Casemiro at the heart of it. When his side needed some impetus, penetration and invention, the Brazilian buddied up with his compatriots and between them, Casemiro, Antony and Fred dropped United’s ball into the bag for the fifth round.
For the opener, the first two combined with the type of move that, up to then, United had failed to produce. Casemiro darted through a corridor to get beyond the Reading defence and Antony provided a perfectly-weighted pass. It helped that Royals keeper Joe Lumley threw himself at Casemiro’s feet, like the 14,000 behind him would given half a chance. Casemiro took his with a dinked finish that belied the nerves that might have been creeping in around Old Trafford.
Casemiro's game by numbers vs. Reading:
100% shot accuracy (2/2)
100% take-ons completed (2/2)
8 duels won
6 passes into final ⅓
5 x possession won
4 tackles made
3 chances created
2 fouls won
0 x dribbled past
The man can do it all. pic.twitter.com/ZDuPvu68Zd
— Squawka (@Squawka) January 28, 2023
Antony’s assist was arguably more significant than Casemiro’s goal from an individual perspective. It must have been a factor in the winger being named Man of the Match, which ought to provide another confidence boost for United’s second-most expensive player ever. Antony was much-improved at Forest in midweek and though he still sometimes frustrated on United’s right, he can take something tangible from another more encouraging night’s work.
Antony had tried three curling efforts from the right before Casemiro showed him where the target was from the opposite side. Four minutes after going over Lumley, he found a way around the Reading keeper via a deflection along the way. That stroke of good fortune was indicative of Casemiro’s fortunes at present.
Similar could be said of United, especially after Fred Cruyff-ed in a third, but the Red Devils are making their own luck on their way back into the top four while plotting two different paths to Wembley. The cup runs have helped Ten Hag’s men record 11 consecutive wins at Old Trafford, with this their best run for five and a half years. That sequence started the game before they last won a trophy. Under Ten Hag, with Casemiro, that drought looks most unlikely to enter a sixth year.
Read more: Another ‘complete fanny’ at Man Utd? Ten Hag deserves to be trusted over Antony…