Real Madrid: Casemiro is clearly the world’s best defensive midfielder

Casemiro of Real Madrid (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Casemiro of Real Madrid (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid defensive midfielder Casemiro has been the MVP on a team filled with superstars, as he’s the tireless glue guy who keeps the world’s best defense – and arguably the world’s best midfield – in top shape.

In Zinedine Zidane‘s first full season under his second stint as Real Madrid manager, the team has taken on a variety of looks. They’ve shuffled Gareth Bale in and out of the lineup, made use of James Rodriguez or Isco, used diamonds and 4-3-3s, played with two strikers, started Rodrygo, shuffled veterans Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, survived without Eden Hazard after needing time to integrate him, and once had competition at left back.

They’ve been through a lot en route to leading La Liga, but the one constant has been Casemiro anchoring the midfield and supporting the defense as the team’s starting defensive midfielder. With 1,860 minutes played in La Liga, only four center midfielders in the league have picked up more minutes than Casemiro, who is the definition of a workhorse.

From the start of the year, Casemiro has been one of Real’s best and most important players. And there isn’t a single defensive midfielder who is on his level right now.

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Casemiro is averaging 3.5 tackles per game and 2.1 interceptions per game, placing him third in La Liga in tackles per game and second in interceptions per game. He ranks fourth among center midfielders in Europe’s top leagues in total tackles won, per, and is also in the top 10 in clearances, aerial duels won, and interceptions.

His passing is a footnote to his defensive work, as he’s widely recognized as one of the most talented tacklers and rugged defenders in world football.

But Casemiro’s passing range deep in Real Madrid’s loaded midfield shouldn’t be totally overlooked. Toni Kroos is unsurprisingly third among center midfielders in accurate long balls, but Casemiro is also in the top five.

It’s that kind of well-rounded play that is rare for a defensive midfielder who is known for cutting out plays.

Take a look at this chart overlaying all the midfielders in Europe in terms of their interceptions and through balls. These are two polar opposite skills. Casemiro is way above the rest of the continent’s center midfielders in interception, yet he’s squarely in the middle of the pack when playing through balls – ahead of Bayern’s Thiago and just behind Chelsea’s Jorginho.

The Brazil international’s technical ability, intelligence, and attacking intent are easy to underrate but should not be overlooked. Recently, this attacking prowess has come to the forefront. Real Madrid would not have won a tough game against Sevilla without Casemiro’s brace, as he was a real danger in the box. And while he didn’t score against Osasuna, he set-up the go-ahead goal in a way that would have made Lynn Williams or Zlatan Ibrahimovic proud, heading the ball to a wide-open Sergio Ramos.

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Casemiro does it all and is the backbone of Real Madrid’s star-studded midfield. Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Isco make more highlight reels, but Casemiro is no slouch on the offensive end either, coming up with quality passing and timely goals. And defensively, he’s been as important to Real’s top defensive record in Europe as the center backs and goalkeeper.