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Three midfield combinations Erik ten Hag should consider against Arsenal after Casemiro’s suspension



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Credit: IMAGO / Sportimage

Manchester United’s winning run came to an end against Crystal Palace recently, with Michael Olise’s phenomenal free-kick taking causing a share in spoils at Selhurst Park.

Manchester United rose to third place in the Premier League table, sitting level on points with Manchester City in second, with the Citizens having a game in hand to play against Tottenham on Thursday evening. If United had held on to all three points, they would have risen above City and into second place.

The failure to take home all three points was not the only significant negative for Erik ten Hag’s men – Casemiro picked up his fifth yellow card of the season, meaning he will be suspended for the next domestic fixture: Arsenal away.

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Casemiro picked up his cards against Newcastle, Tottenham, Wolves, Manchester City, and Crystal Palace, and his importance in the side this season has been immeasurable. His loss is a huge disadvantage to United and an even bigger advantage to Arsenal, who currently top the table.

With Casemiro out, Ten Hag will have to consider how to cover for the loss, and we are proposing three ways he can do so.

Like for like swap: Scott McTominay

This is the most obvious option. Although McTominay and Casemiro’s abilities aren’t much of a comparison considering the brilliance of the latter, if Erik ten Hag wants to keep the balance of his XI as intact as possible, adding McTominay into the centre of midfield to fill the hole between Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen.

Although it is easy to point out the negatives of this swap, if minds are cast back to the end of August, it was actually McTominay’s performances that originally kept Casemiro out of the side when he initially signed.

“You can see it like that, when the team is acting well, we have more than 11 players, then you stay in,” Erik ten Hag said of McTomiany’s selection back in August.

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Also in early September, Ten Hag’s recognition of the Scotsman’s positives were evident. “He (Casemiro) is new in the team, he has to adapt to the team,” Ten Hag said at the time. “He has to get used to my way of playing football… The other thing, Scott McTomiany is playing really well.”

A change of intensity: Fred and one other with a back five

One part of this season that has taken everyone by surprise is the emergence of the fact that Luke Shaw is an incredibly competent centre-back. There were actually signs last season that this may be a possibility, with Shaw and Alex Telles having both operated on the left-hand side of a back five under some fixtures for Ralf Rangnick.

When they have played together, Shaw and Tyrell Malacia have actually formed a quality understanding with Shaw slotting in at left centre-back and Malacia left-back – and Ten Hag may look to install a back five in order to compensate for the lack of Casemiro in midfield and Arsenal’s rather brilliant attack.

With the rest of the back five selection obvious, the two players who would subsequently slot in ahead of them are Fred and Eriksen/Bruno Fernandes – with Fred enacting a destroyer role and Eriksen/Fernandes more focused on progression – two roles which, if played properly, can help negate the issues caused by Casemiro’s absence.

Fred played a top-class game against Manchester City when he was told to stick on Kevin de Bryune, disrupting City’s main creative threat and restricting the Belgian from operating in his favoured areas – and could do the same against Martin Odegaard, who has been fantastic for Arsenal this season.

Go wild: Lisandro Martinez steps up

An out-of-the-box option could see Martinez step up from his usual role alongside Raphael Varane and join in midfield. Although this is certainly a suggestion which may be more realistic in a game of FIFA career mode than in an aware fixture against the current Premier League leaders, it might just work.

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Martinez is one of the best defenders in the league with the ball at his feet, consistently making a high number of line-breaking passes – something Casemiro adds to the United side, too.

He is also very good at predicting and intercepting play, as his lack of height has forced him to develop predictive and proactive defensive skills, which suit a defensive midfielder. As long as the appropriate cover was provided in the absence of Martinez in defence, such as Shaw slotting in at left centre-back and Malacia at left-back, it could work.