On September 15, in the heat of a strange afternoon of embarrassment in Bilbao, Julen Lopetegui gathered the staff at the hotel before leaving for San Mamés and to the surprise of those present he announced that Casemiro would be a substitute for Ceballos. 45 minutes into the game the coach saw him so black that he took the first of a series of desperate decisions. He put Casemiro in and removed Ceballos, but by then the fissures became undermined. In San Mamés, Lopetegui lost his first points in the league and undertook a progressive fall after challenging a law that no Madrid coach has been able to alter since Xabi Alonso was transferred to Bayern in 2014. The rule is simple: the team does not work without Casemiro.
Now the problem corresponds to Santiago Solari. A sprained right ankle left Casemiro out of the expedition to Ipurua, last Saturday, and Solari not only lost his first game since occupying the bench: Madrid was thrashed (3-0) after receiving eight shots on goal , the same ones that Barça did in the Camp Nou. The defense is vulnerable if the Brazilian midfielder does not protect the central and in Rome the news is not more promising: Casemiro is still out.
The template only offers a natural replacement to the Brazilian midfielder. This is Marcos Llorente, so little used that in the last two days of the league has been ruled out in favor of Fede Valverde. "There are different players that can play that role," Solari said yesterday. "Some of the centrals could be positioned as a midfielder; Ceballos has done well, better against Celta than against Eibar; Fede Valverde and Kroos can also play there … And Llorente is probably the most similar to Casemiro in the squad. "
The difficulty of replacing Casemiro, 26, is directly proportional to his stature as a specialist. World Champion with Brazil in 1994, Mazinho ponders without hesitation his successor: "I see an essential player for the Madrid system. It is a watchdog and is perfectly combined with Modric and Kroos. The security he provides is essential for a team that rises so much to attack. He makes a line that cuts all the counterattacks of the opponent and with the ball is very intelligent. He has a good shot and heads well. It's an SUV! "
There are players of brilliance and players that make others look. The last ones are the ones that are not there when the teams collapse. Solari already proved that Casemiro corresponds to this species. His first major tactical change as coach of Madrid came against Valladolid in LaLiga, in the 56th minute, when he replaced Casemiro to introduce Isco. The team broke down. Only the rebounding goal that Vinicius caused saved Madrid, who received up to 12 shots.
Donato Gama da Silva, central and Brazilian midfielder of Atlético and Deportivo in the 90s, notes that his countryman has earned the status of irreplaceable: "Casemiro has improved a lot defensively. Today is a bulwark. Brazil was eliminated from the World Cup when Casemiro was suspended against Belgium. "
After four and a half seasons, the balance of matches won with and without Casemiro is thunderous. With the Brazilian, Madrid prevails in more than 70% of the matches. Without it, in less than 60%.
"When he arrived from Brazil, he overreacted to intimidation," says Raúl Caneda, a Spanish coach who has worked at LaLiga and the Premier; "But once he started to relax, Casemiro showed that he knows how to play. It is not Rodri or Busquets but it does not lose it and it gives continuity to the game. He is very good with the ball and has the energy to do what Kroos and Modric are not able to do without the ball. A team is an ecological construction, some pieces harmonize with others. Casemiro is not clairvoyant but he makes the good ones play much better ".
Toni Kroos said it in the dressing room on the night of 1-0 in Mendizorroza, when Lopetegui knew he was sentenced. "I'm not Casemiro," he warned, after the coach retired the Brazilian in the 60th minute and tested with him in front of the central players in a bet of last resort that ended in defeat.
Solari must invent something new or in Rome Madrid will be exposed again.