It says a lot about Kobbie Mainoo’s inherent talent, and immediately translatable quality, that the online discussion surrounding Manchester United’s midfield is largely about who should be partnering him for the rest of the season.
Mainoo has made an excellent account of himself since entering Manchester United‘s first-team squad permanently, impressing in pre-season and appearing four times since returning from an injury sustained then, all in incredibly hostile atmospheres.
Yet the 18-year-old was not at all fazed by a Goodison Park crowd rattled by a record point deduction, the RAMS Park that Galatasaray fans likened to entering hell when the draw was made, St James’ Park that has been a fortress since Newcastle’s owners took over, and the ever-famous Anfield.
It is a testament to his mental fortitude that he was a standout in all of these games for Manchester United, even with just one ending in a win. For all the talk about new midfielders at Old Trafford, and the number of players that have been brought in, it is Mainoo who looks to be the future of Manchester United’s midfield.
But there is still more than half a season of football left to play, and Mainoo needs someone to play alongside him in that midfield for that. United are unlikely to sign anyone in January, but perhaps the ideal partner for Mainoo for the remainder of the season is already at the club.
Football so quickly forgets sometimes. His form at the beginning of the season was poor, enhanced by United’s environment, but last season he was a one-man army at times. Playing mostly alongside Christian Eriksen, Casemiro was United’s midfield enforcer, and there were few better in all of football than him.
He has had a slight decline physically, making it harder for him to cover Eriksen defensively – particularly with increased spaces to cover in United’s midfield this year – but coming back from an injury of his own and playing next to Mainoo could be what rejuvenates him.
Mainoo offers United the control in possession that Eriksen was so crucial for, a less expansive passer but a more natural first-phase presence, whilst physically offering much much more than the Danish veteran. Mainoo is a powerful player who tackles tenaciously but is equally measured. He would reduce Casemiro’s defensive load as well as taking on more responsibility in United’s early possession phases.
This, alongside a lighter match schedule with Ten Hag’s men out of the UEFA Champions League and EFL Cup, gives Casemiro a much lighter load upon his return to the side, and this could be exactly what he needs to thrive once more.
As I mentioned, football forgets quickly, and in Casemiro’s case, his epic performances of last season were forgotten far too quickly. His return brings back experience and leadership rivalled by few to a suffering Manchester United side, along with adding needed steel to United’s midfield. He was the side’s third-highest goal contributor last season with seven goals and six assists in all competitions, including a goal in the EFL Cup final.
His return to the side could be something that really lifts United, and his qualities will provide Kobbie Mainoo with a guiding figure in his early steps as a senior player whilst also offering him the platform he needs to thrive, perhaps more so than any of his other midfield partners can right now. For the team as a whole, he could be the same driving force he was for large parts of last season, leading in every way you could think of.
He did not start the season particularly well, and as an ageing player past his peak is not going to be the long-term answer in the number six position at Old Trafford. He can still, however, be a key figure for this team both on and off the pitch, and be the player that gets the best out of someone who very much is Manchester United’s future.
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