For Carlos Henrique Casimiro it was a most bewildering introduction to the often nonsensical world of Manchester United. But a perfect education all the same.
Nothing demonstrated the inconsistencies of Erik ten Hag’s new team, or the scale of the new manager’s task, better than their ability to reduce a Liverpool team with Premier League title pretensions to mediocre fodder at Old Trafford. And just nine days after they had plumbed further depths of their own at Brentford.
Nothing symbolised the dysfunction at the heart of United clearer than the noise that greeted the club’s latest big-money recruit when he stepped onto the pitch before kick off. There were of course cheers for Casemiro as he held aloft a red shirt with his name but no number, although they were soon drowned out by chants of “We want Glazers out” from the Stretford End. The same chant echoed around the stadium moments after Jadon Sancho slotted the hosts into a thoroughly deserved lead against the old enemy. Liverpool fans responded with shouts of “Up the Glazers” while holding hundreds of pictures of Joel Glazer’s face aloft.
The biggest game in English football and both sets of supporters were singing about an American family that has presided over one side’s decline, the other having been in the same boat just over a decade ago. United’s first win of the season at least dragged attention back to where it should always be.
Their merited victory rounded off a hectic and head-spinning day for Casemiro who, having bid a tearful farewell to Real Madrid in the morning, arrived at Old Trafford several hours before kick off to take in his new environment. First impressions will have included a disenchanted fanbase, with thousands protesting against the Glazers outside the stadium ahead of the game, and a team in urgent need of direction with club captain, Harry Maguire, and Cristiano Ronaldo among those dropped to the bench following the humbling at Brentford. But also a team willing to fight against their fiercest rivals and to implement the new manager’s instructions.
United have committed to spend an eye-watering total of £142.8m on the 30-year-old — a fee rising to £70m plus a four-year contract worth £350,000-a-week — and the sums involved in luring the midfielder from a glittering nine-year career at the Bernabeu signal the desperation at Old Trafford. Or the Brazil international’s pedigree, if that glass can now look half-full after a win over Liverpool. “If it was about money I would have left four or five years ago,” Casemiro said at his goodbye to Real. He cannot, in all honesty, claim sporting ambition is behind the decision to leave the reigning European and Spanish champions for United either.
At least Casemiro will have been encouraged by the intensity and flashes of quality that underpinned his new club’s win over Jürgen Klopp’s side. The prospect of United’s new midfield anchor being deployed in the middle of Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes will enthuse Ten Hag too.
Fernandes was prominent throughout, looking to release Marcus Rashford behind an uncertain Liverpool defence at the earliest opportunity and revelling in the space between Klopp’s midfield and central defence. It was space that raised questions over Klopp’s decision to name Fabinho among his substitutes with Liverpool’s midfield resources stretched by injuries to Thiago Alcantara, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones. Naby Keita joined the injury list yet again before kick off having been in line to start. The Guinea international is reportedly unhappy with the contract extension currently on offer at Anfield. If correct, the £52.75m midfielder has some nerve having struggled with fitness problems throughout his Liverpool career. An inexperienced Liverpool bench featuring a second goalkeeper in Harvey Davies and three back-up central defenders in Nat Phillips, Sepp van den Berg and Stefan Bajcetic also showed the paucity of Klopp’s resources at present.
Liverpool could have over-ran United’s central midfield of Eriksen and Scott McTominay with an extra man and Roberto Firmino regularly dropping into the hole between them. They only seriously threatened to do so in the closing stages of the first half when James Milner, of all options, was given licence to roam in front of the United defence and when Fabio Carvalho replaced the veteran in the 73rd minute.
United’s game-plan and bravery in possession regularly thwarted that opportunity. McTominay, one of those most under threat by Casemiro’s signing, was disciplined and effective while Anthony Elanga formed a promising left-wing partnership with the impressive Tyrell Malacia. Rashford worked tirelessly and United will hope his goal reignites the confidence that has been lacking from his game. Fernandes was to the fore, however, also impressing defensively as Liverpool pressed for an undeserved equaliser.
Maybe Casemiro can find reward at Old Trafford on the pitch too. Maybe.