The Santiago Bernabeu wore a festive look with the club supporters in a state of excitement. It seemed as if Christmas had come early. There was every reason to believe so with their beloved team Real Madrid all set to battle it out against fierce rivals Barcelona at home, trailing the latter by just 3 points. A win at home had every chance of generating the momentum necessary for a league challenge.
Barcelona manager Luis Enrique had opted to rest Argentine superstar Lionel Messi who had been a major threat in previous fixtures scoring goals and assists with great splendour which was nothing short of music to the ears. At the same time, Spanish manager Rafa Benitez had fielded a lineup consisting of some of the most attacking minded midfielders in the business like Luka Modric, James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos.
Those expecting a mammoth win were however reduced to tears as Barcelona’s attack consisting of the likes of Luis Suarez, Neymar Junior ran rampant taking advantage of a midfield which lacked any physical edge. The Catalan giants smashed 4 goals without leaking any recording a margin of 4-0, which was the second biggest margin of victory ever recorded by the Blaugranas ever since the 6-2 win way back in 2006. The supporters who were full of optimism ahead of the game had no choice but to trudge back home having watched the Galacticos struggle in such a fashion.
Heads were bound to roll after reports of Club President Florentino Perez’s fury following the embarrassing drubbing recording their first ever defeat in 23 home games. Manager Rafa Benitez was wise enough to realise that his position was in great danger following the debacle. This short but eventful experience, however, had a very important lesson in store for him. Benitez had opted to field an attacking lineup after taking into consideration constant calls for the inclusion of Colombian attacker James Rodriguez ignoring his instincts by benching Casemiro- the Brazilian central defensive midfielder who had made quite an impression with his ability to break down attacks and astute defensive mentality.
Legendary midfielder Zinedine Zidane who was appointed as the successor realised that his desire to ensure a strong, well-rounded outfit capable of succeeding against any opposition could be realised only with the addition of a midfield dynamo like Casemiro. The decision has proved to be a masterstroke in hindsight with the addition of a selfless, tough-tackling midfielder who openly confessed that he “enjoys sacrificing himself for his teammates,”
Casemiro enjoys the ability to ensure inch-perfect passes, breaking down any counterattacks with his intelligence, excellent positioning. The 26-year-old enjoys the ability to predict the opponent’s next move beforehand leaving the attack in a state of disarray and dismay. The eagle-eyed midfielder also enjoys astounding vision, incredible wisdom and the priceless ability to paper over any defensive cracks in the setup with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric ensuring an offensive front. Real Madrid left-back Marcelo was full of praise for his country-mate hailing him for his speed, efficiency when handed the responsibility of shielding the defence going on to exclaim: ”Ahhhh, Casemiro. He saved my life. I might play until I’m 45 with this guy by my side.”
At the same time, he has been no stranger to the hard grind on the training field with his work-ethics, ability to react sharply to any potential challenges earning a fan in none other than current manager Julen Lopetegui. The Spanish manager exclaimed: “It is a joy to coach him; he listens, asks for advice, takes it on,”. “His secret is the desire to improve, his willingness to adapt. He is everyone’s partner, helping them out: making adjustments, watching everything.”
While there are very few midfielders who can enjoy the honour of being labelled as the next Claude Makélélé’s, Casemiro is certainly one who has earned his spot on the list and is more than capable of emulating him in the coming years.
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