Casemiro’s infant son was in his father’s arms prior to kick-off but too young to emerge from the tunnel. The two-year-old Caio, pacified by a dummy, may have removed it to hum along to the nursery rhyme that was the repeated chanting of his father’s name.
There are some worthy nominees for the Sir Matt Busby statue but it belongs on Casemiro’s mantlepiece. The Brazilian is one of United’s few superstar signings in the last decade who have the club aiming for the stars.
The Stretford End rocked to Casemiro’s name for several minutes as they savoured his opening goal, extended by the Video Assistant Referee check. Casemiro, on his haunches, waited anxiously until he received the desired signal and pumped both fists.
Casemiro sauntered off to the same sound at the interval, his dinked pass supplying Jadon Sancho and Anthony Martial with instructions so straightforward even they could not botch it. For a player regarded as defensive-minded, Casemiro is one of United’s most influential attackers. Little wonder Roy Keane greeted him so warmly on that heady August evening against Liverpool.
Casemiro’s pass was reminiscent of Paul Scholes’s for Wayne Rooney against AC Milan in the 2007 Champions League semi-final. The Old Trafford stadium manager can dust off the competition’s banner and add its anthem to the playlist on Tuesday and Wednesday nights next season. Good riddance to the largely soulless Thursday evenings.
How apt Casemiro was the first goalscorer in the first League Cup final and on the night United ensured they will have Thursday nights off next season. His impact has been immense.
There were Brazilian tears, as well as cheers. Antony vainly attempted to overcome an apparent ankle injury but required a stretcher, his season seemingly over nine days before the FA Cup final. That sullied an otherwise buoyant night for United.
Antony’s probable absence from the line-up at Wembley is particularly problematic for Erik ten Hag as he considers a tactical tweak. Bruno Fernandes may shift to the flank to accommodate a more energetic central midfielder, which would indicate at least one of Sancho and Martial are certain to start.
Martial’s name on the scoresheet did not reprieve him from the matchgoers, audibly exasperated with his shortcomings on more than one occasion. His last two goals have been tap-ins and Martial remains one goal shy of double figures; a derisory amount for a number nine who cannot live up to his squad number.
With a new year chiselled onto the honours’ board and a top-four finish secured, United’s season is now an undeniable success. A good season will be a great season if the FA Cup returns as an attraction for visitors to the Old Trafford museum.
In a season of modest scorelines, Marcus Rashford still broke the 30-goal barrier – the first United player to do so since Robin van Persie in Sir Alex Ferguson’s farewell campaign. It was long overdue from Rashford, almost three months on from his 25th strike against Newcastle at Wembley.
Frank Lampard’s first match as Chelsea manager ended with a 4-0 thrashing at Manchester United in August 2019 and his second to last match as Chelsea manager ended with a 4-1 thrashing at United, the symmetry only spoilt by Joao Felix’s 89th-minute drive.
Some United fans sang along with Chelsea followers’ rendition of ‘super Frankie Lampard’. There had already been gallows humour in the away end with a rendition of “You’re nothing special, we lose every week.” There were ‘ole’s from the Stretford End in the final seconds and the final score still flattered Chelsea.
United reserved their joint-record win of the season against a team who are barely worthy of that cringing ‘big six’ prefix any more. Both teams have found goals hard to come by all season yet United have often found a way. Chelsea were their most obliging visitors.
Casemiro’s sixth-minute goal was identical to United’s first of the calendar year; an inswinging Christian Eriksen free-kick towards the Scoreboard End and a first-time connection. The Casemiro-Eriksen axis has modernised the United midfield and the two wily midfield additions are another feather in the cap of Ten Hag.
Chelsea will rue their opportunities either side of Casemiro’s header; Mykhaylo Mudryk and Kai Havertz each miscued fine crosses from Lewis Hall. “How has he missed that?” one of the Chelsea analysts asked a colleague, who could only glance at him mournfully.
Ten Hag started the match in the dugout and no sooner had he trundled down the steps to the technical area had Mudryk scuffed Hall’s centre wide. Ten Hag raised his right hand, enquiring as to how Hall was afforded so much space yet he found himself in an identical area to see Havertz waste his next contribution.
For only the third time all season, United entered the home dressing room with a 2-0 advantage. For the majority of it, they were their usual profligate selves. Four times in the first half alone a heavy touch scuppered a goalscoring chance. United threatened a season-record win when Fernandes smacked the crossbar within two minutes of the restart.
Fernandes’s reputation preceded him when a reasonable penalty shout was ignored in the first half yet he was more successful in the second. Fernandes converted easily and Chelsea’s implosion spilt onto the pitch, with the truculent Enzo Fernandez taking umbrage at United’s celebrations.
Sancho, a fortuitous starter again, was largely ineffectual and required a vehement pep talk from Ten Hag midway through the half. He responded with an assist for Martial.
The Stretford End credited Casemiro. He walked off at full-time to his chant.