"Oh for a midfielder like Casemiro..."
You could almost hear Real Madrid pleading for the loaned-out Brazilian as they were shredded by Schalke on Tuesday. What they wouldn't have given for a swashbuckling, all-action presence in the centre of the park as they slumped to a second successive defeat.
In Porto, meanwhile, their 23-year-old capture from 2013 was turning heads with yet another standout performance for the Portuguese giants.
He scored a sumptuous free-kick from more than 30 yards out and, according to WhoScored, successfully executed six tackles and made six interceptions in a man-of-the-match display against Basel, which his side won 4-0.
It was the sort of showing Madrid no doubt hoped Casemiro would exhibit with some regularity when they sent him to Estadio do Dragao on a temporary deal. Having paid just €6 million to acquire him from Sao Paulo, they had used him primarily in the B setup before handing him 12 La Liga appearances in the first team last season.
He didn't particularly stand out in any of them, and given that his career had seemed to stall in Brazil, they might not have been that surprised. His Madrid arrival, which, in itself, was rather unexpected, was always going to be an experiment—a long-shot—and the Porto loan was set up to be a sort of secondary phase to the test.
It has come off magnificently.
Leaner, quicker and infinitely more confident, Casemiro has thrived in a pivotal role for manager Julen Lopetegui, who has the Dragons into the last eight of the Champions League and snapping at Benfica's heels domestically. They'll also contest a Taca da Liga semi-final next month at Maritimo and go into Sunday's match against Arouca having outscored their opponents in league play 14-6 since the end of January.
Incidentally, Arsenal were also linked to him last spring by the Mirror, (h/t Inside Spanish Football), and with his stock having risen astronomically since then it's more than likely they'll renew their interest ahead of the summer transfer window, especially with their own issues—mostly injury-related—in the centre of the park.
Madrid, however, will no doubt be loath to let him go.
As their performances become more and more erratic, the need for a tough-tackling, up-tempo, trouble-making presence in midfield becomes increasingly stark.
And Casemiro, around whom so many questions lingered in his final days at Sao Paulo and early ones at Real Madrid, has suddenly positioned himself to be the answer—and an emphatic one at that.