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Casemiro getting back to his best with Madrid

(AP Photo/Andrea Comas)

By JOSEPH WILSON

Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Casemiro knew what was coming before scoring one of the best goals of his career at Real Madrid.

His teammate Luka Modric had let an innocent-looking pass by Sergio Reguilon run through to Casemiro, who was gathering steam in a run from midfield.

The Brazil midfielder dipped his head, set up a firing angle, and then unleashed a brutal, swerving shot from 25 meters (yards) that screamed into the top corner of the net.

"I know Luka well and I knew that he was going to leave that ball for me. I saw it clearly that, when he let the ball come to me, I was going to strike it toward the net," Casemiro said about the 78th-minute goal that broke the deadlock in a 2-0 win over Sevilla on Saturday.

"It was a perfect, powerful strike. It was a good goal, one of the best I have scored."

Casemiro's first goal in the Spanish league this season saw Madrid move past Sevilla into third place and avoid another setback in an erratic season.

It also came at just the right time for Casemiro, who despite helping Madrid to win the last three Champions League titles has seen a challenger emerge to his place in the starting lineup.

Surrounded by stars like Modric, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, Casemiro counterbalances the flare of his more famous teammates by doing the tough work in midfield to tackle, regain possession and out-muscle opponents.

But after an unimpressive start to the season, Casemiro had seen his job security threatened by the impressive play of Marcos Llorente, who went from a rarely used backup to one of coach Santiago Solari's top-performing players after Casemiro injured an ankle in November.

Llorente scored in the final of the Club World Cup and gave Solari many reasons to stick with him as his holding midfielder once Casemiro returned to full health.

But Llorente hurt a leg muscle and that gave Casemiro the opportunity to get off the bench and back into his role as Madrid's enforcer.

Still, Casemiro had yet to play like the intimidating midfielder who can also provide a threat from long range in his previous five matches back in the starting 11.

That all changed on Saturday against Sevilla, when he completed a strong showing by unleashing the shot that bent back the hand of goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik before hitting the net.

"When you work hard, you see success eventually," Casemiro said. "It was a victory to show that we are still alive."

Rodrigo Moreno is hoping that he has reached a turning point.

Last season he was one of the Spanish league's most effective strikers. Moreno scored 16 goals to help Valencia finish fourth and return to the Champions League. And that paid off for Moreno with a place on Spain's World Cup squad.

But since then he has been plagued by mistakes and missed chances along with most of his teammates.

Moreno finally came through with a goal in the 84th minute on Saturday to complete a 2-1 comeback win at Celta Vigo.

It was just his third goal in all competitions this season, but it was good enough to lift Valencia into the top half of the league table.

"This is a team that competes, that wants to win, and that has been denied this only by a lack of effectiveness," coach Marcelino Garcia said. "I'm sure that we are going to change this."

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Updated January 21, 2019

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