The Debate: Will Casemiro start on Thursday?
Erik ten Hag has a particular decision to make in midfield when selecting his Manchester United team to face Real Betis on Thursday.
With the job not yet complete, the boss could opt to pick a similar line-up to the one that triumphed 4-1 in the first leg, but with a healthy advantage in the tie, there is also a case for making some changes ahead of another important cup fixture at the weekend.
Casemiro, however, will serve the first game of his four-match domestic suspension during Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Fulham, posing the question of if he will start Thursday’s match in Spain – given he’s unavailable at the weekend – or if Erik will play a midfield pairing that he plans to start together during the games that the Brazilian misses.
An added factor is that Casemiro is one yellow card away from a Europa League suspension, meaning if he is booked in Spain and United progress, he would miss any quarter-final first leg in that competition.
So, will our no.18 be in our starting XI at the Benito Villamarin Stadium or could Scott McTominay – who was introduced following the midfielder’s red card against Southampton – be given the opportunity to build up some rhythm in the side, ahead of an important run of domestic matches?
Christian Eriksen, Donny van de Beek and Marcel Sabitzer have all missed recent matches for United, meaning our panellists on a new episode of The Debate seem to think that a starting spot alongside Fred - who was picked in the first leg - could be between Casemiro and McTominay on Thursday.
Bruno Fernandes - also one booking away from a European ban - played in a deeper-midfield role in Sunday's draw and is another option for the two positions in front of the defence, as is young Kobbie Mainoo, who awaits his senior European debut for the club. Ten Hag has also been known to use defenders in those spots in the past.
David May, former United defender
“Possibly [you could use Casemiro’s upcoming suspension to give game time to other players]. It’s a chance for Scott to get more game time because he’s not played that many games this season, get another 90 minutes in him. I think that’s important, but it depends what the manager thinks. We could second guess his team all five of us and pick different midfielders, it’s down to what the manager thinks but for me I’d play Scott. Get game time in him. You know he’s going to play in the next four games if he does well.”
Alex Bruce, former United Academy defender
“[He needs the game time], doesn’t he? Was it [the] West Ham [game] when he came off at half-time? He did look a little bit rusty, I felt for him. I know he was on a booking as well which didn’t help but I think to get 90 minutes under his belt at this stage with some big important games coming up would be key.”
The Debate: Who plays in midfield against Betis?
The Debate | Our panel preview the Real Betis and Fulham ties, talk United Women and pay tribute to Ian Stirling...
I THINK CASEMIRO STARTS
Ian Irving, Premier League Productions
“You can see easily why you’d make an argument to say Fred and McTominay, or whoever your midfield choice is going to be in the four matches Casemiro is missing should start this game, but literally every single thing I’ve seen from Erik ten Hag so far as Manchester United manager means he’s going to start Casemiro in this match. I’d be shocked if he didn’t play it. If United are cruising, take him off early and then maybe use that midfield pairing you’re thinking of using maybe later on in the game. If you get to half-time and it’s 0-0, or United are ahead, or whatever it may be, if you’re not concerned about the match status, maybe that’s the time you change it. Especially with Casemiro not being available for the domestic games, I think he starts this match personally.”
You can now watch the brand-new episode of The Debate here, in full, with former Reds Alex Bruce and David May, plus journalists Ian Irving and Laurie Whitwell joining MUTV presenter Liam Bradford.