MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Casemiro was a serial winner with Real Madrid and on Saturday he kept Manchester United’s trophy hunt going strong in the FA Cup.
The Brazil international struck twice in four second-half minutes as United won against second-division Reading 3-1 and progressed to the fifth round.
On Wednesday, Erik ten Hag’s improving team put a foot in the League Cup final by beating Nottingham Forest 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.
There is growing belief among United fans that a six-year wait for a trophy will come to an end this season, with the club also still in the Europa League where a much-anticipated clash with Barcelona is coming next month.
If Ten Hag is to lift silverware in his first season as manager, Casemiro will be pivotal to that success.
“He is really important with all his experience but he is such a smart player and intelligent,” Ten Hag said. “He knows the positions, how to deal with the ball and also he is creative as well and we are really happy with him. He is important for the improvement of the team.
“When you see his profile, if you see performances over his last years for Real Madrid, he is magnificent.”
Casemiro won five Champions Leagues and three Spanish titles with Madrid but left last summer for a new challenge in England.
Ten Hag wanted to add his winning mentality to a team that had seen Manchester City and Liverpool dominate the Premier League in recent years. His influence was evident against a Reading team that withstood United’s dominance until the 54th minute.
It was a performance that underlined how much Casemiro was missed when he was suspended for the 3-2 loss to Arsenal last week, which left United 11 points behind the league leader.
With the midfielder in the starting lineup, United has lost only two of 21 games in all competitions, compared to four of 11 without him.
Reading manager Paul Ince was a title-winning midfielder with United in the 1990s and outlined what Casemiro must do if he is to help return the club to its former glories.
“When you play for Man United, it’s not what you do against Reading or other teams, Leicester or Southampton, no disrespect,” Ince said. “It’s what you do against Manchester City and Arsenal and Liverpool and Chelsea and win titles. That’s what you base it on. That’s the standard that you’ve got to have. That’s what we had with the likes of (Roy Keane) Keaney and (Bryan) Robson and people like that.”
While Casemiro is better known as a midfield enforcer, he has showcased his other attributes in his short time at Old Trafford, including his impressive range of passing.
Against Reading, it was his clinical finishing that broke the visitor’s resistance.
First came a delicate chip to lift the ball over goalkeeper Joe Lumley after racing onto Antony’s pass into the box. Then, in the 58th, he let fly from around 25 meters to double United’s lead.
His mastery was evident when Reading forward Andy Carroll’s frustration boiled over and he was sent off for a second yellow card after a wild challenge on Casemiro in the 65th.
Another Brazilian, Fred, came off the bench to add a third for United with a backheel a minute later.
Amadou Mbengue scored a consolation for Reading, but there was never any danger of a comeback.
“If we had played United a year ago I would have felt we had a right good chance of beating them,” Ince said. “I actually felt that because I felt United had lost their presence. I felt teams were coming to Old Trafford thinking they could get something. But I think under Ten Hag, in a short period of time, he has lifted the whole club.”
STRUGGLERS AVOID UPSETS
While they are fighting for survival in the league, Leeds, Leicester and Southampton are advancing in the cup.
Securing top-flight status remains the priority for all three, but the cup is providing welcome relief from their battles against relegation.
Leeds won against third-tier Accrington Stanley 3-1, Leicester overcame fourth-tier Walsall 1-0, and bottom-of-the-league Southampton won against second-division Blackpool 2-1 on Saturday.
Goals from Leeds’ Jack Harrison, Junior Firpo and Luis Sinisterra ended any chance of a miracle for Accrington in front of its home fans at Wham Stadium. Leslie Adekoya, however, gave them something to cheer with a late consolation goal.
It was only Leeds’ second win since Nov. 5, both of them coming in the FA Cup.
Leicester — cup winner in 2021 — needed a late goal from Kelechi Iheanacho to end Walsall’s resistance in a match that also saw Youri Tielemans miss a penalty.
Leicester’s only other win since Dec. 20 was in the previous round of the cup.
Romain Perraud scored twice in Southampton’s win. Charlie Patino pulled one back for Blackpool.
SUNDERLAND TESTS FULHAM
Sunderland 15-year-old substitute Christopher Rigg thought he scored a famous winner against the Premier League’s Fulham, only to see his effort ruled out for offside.
Rigg struck in time added on at Craven Cottage, but the second division team’s celebrations were soon cut short.
Sunderland took an early lead through Jack Clarke, and Tom Cairney equalized for Fulham to set up a replay.
There will also be replays for Sheffield Wednesday and Fleetwood (1-1), Ipswich and Burnley (0-0), Luton and Grimsby (2-2) and Blackburn and Birmingham (2-2).
Second division Bristol City was through to fifth round after beating West Brom 3-0.
DANJUMA’S DREAM DEBUT
New Tottenham signing Arnaut Danjuma scored on his debut as Spurs beat Preston 3-0.
Danjuma, who has joined on loan from Villarreal, struck late on after going on as a substitute.
Heung-Min Son had already set Tottenham on course for the next round with two second-half goals.