How do you replace Casemiro? Manchester United need to find an answer after frustrating draw

In March, as in February, gloved hands were held over his face in disappointment. He lingered on the field before trudging lonely to the tunnel in the corner. For the second time in as many months at Old Trafford, Casemiro has been sent off.

Manchester United managed to beat Crystal Palace without their talisman. His absence and overall early departure cost them against Southampton. Two points were lost in a stalemate, although a game of such drama was little stale. However, having been named as title contenders, United could slip to fourth place ahead of their next Premier League start.

Their quest for Champions League football might suffer without Casemiro. The Brazilian faces a four-game ban after missing out on Carlos Alcaraz; he caught the top of the ball and then the Argentine. Anthony Taylor initially booked him and for the second time in a matter of weeks a VAR review resulted in Casemiro being red.

The game’s complexion has been changed. United’s unbeaten run at Old Trafford spanned 22 games but was rarely nearer the end: David de Gea needed a combination of a goal-line clearance, the woodwork and some good saves to keep a clean sheet.

At least a team without Casemiro showed more heart than a side with him at Anfield seven days earlier. United could have won when Gavin Bazunu hit the post with Bruno Fernandes’ 20-yard shot. So many times in a season he has cost Southampton too many goals, Manchester City academy product Bazunu has been great against United. He made a brilliant save from Raphael Varane and a good one from Marcus Rashford as everyone was found by Fernandes. This felt on his best day of a difficult period at Southampton.

It could be seen as a bonus point for Southampton in their battle to escape relegation, although on a weekend when Bournemouth and Everton both won and Leeds and West Ham drew, the table hardly suggests they are any better off. At least one team that was beaten 9-0 at Old Trafford two years ago could be happier about a return. A side embarrassed by League Two Grimsby in the FA Cup regained some pride even if they failed to follow Ruben Selles’ debut win at Stamford Bridge with another notable header.

But they came frighteningly close. Scott McTominay came on to take over Casemiro and United nearly suffered a second self-inflicted wound: Aaron Wan-Bissaka had to clear on the line to save McTominay from an own goal after catching Kyle Walker-Peters’ cross from a touch , which flew past David de Gea.

Then James Ward-Prowse flicked the crossbar with a free kick. He was inches away from equaling David Beckham’s record 18 goals from direct free-kicks in the Premier League; There couldn’t possibly have been a more suitable place for it and United gave him the opportunity by continuing to concede free-kicks in the Ward-Prowse area.

Luke Shaw challenges Theo Walcott in the early stages


As Ward-Prowse grazed the woodwork, Kyle Walker-Peters smashed in a wild shot with his less-favored left foot. Walker-Peters was outstanding, relentless in attack and dogged in defence. He fended off the substitute Alejandro Garnacho superbly in his own penalty area and crossed well to the other side.

But with United chasing a goal and leaving gaps, Southampton had the best chance on the counterattack. Theo Walcott, clearly sprinting into space as the United defense vanished, attempted to chip De Gea. The keeper scraped it away, just as he had previously blocked the winger’s header from the shortest possible time. His footwork had been questioned this week but De Gea’s handling was excellent when it mattered.

Her plans had required a quick rethink. This was arguably Erik ten Hag’s most attacking formation to date, with Fernandes in central midfield behind a back four. Fernandes was briefly a one-man midfielder when Casemiro was sent off until McTominay came on for Wout Weghorst. Jadon Sancho, who started as number 10, became a lone striker. Then, in the second half, Rashford did. Three very different centre-forwards failed to score. Fernandes was United’s best hope. When Casemiro was on the pitch he was free to come forward and provide Rashford with a beautiful pass. When he lost his buddy, he almost scored himself.

Meanwhile, United were appealing penalties for Walker-Peters’ challenge to Fernandes, Armel Bella-Kotchap’s apparent handball and Rashford’s apparent fall on himself while passing Bazunu. None was given, but the decisive decision was Casemiro’s dismissal. Once again, United are faced with the question of how to replace the irreplaceable. How do you replace Casemiro? Manchester United need to find an answer after frustrating draw

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