Is Varane the answer to United’s quest for silverware?

Sir Alex once said, “Attack wins you games, defense wins you titles“. The quest for any challenge starts with a strong defense, a defense which can not only defend but also sometimes mount an attack. The quest to solve the defensive puzzle has taken Manchester United across the English Channel to a player named – Raphaël Varane.

Man United confirmed the transfer on July 27, but as per reports, Varane has been eyeing a move to United since the last summer when he changed his agency. While Madrid even offered him the armband, (with Ramos leaving for PSG) Varane turned down the offer. It is also being reported that he turned out a juicy contract which was more than the £20m currently offered by United. Varane was smitten by the presentation of John Murtough and Darren Fletcher, which described the philosophy of the club, the culture and the values. He was also impressed with their plans and what they could offer him.

This is however, not the first time United have pursued the tall defender, who stands at 6″3. Varane was pursued by Sir Alex earlier in 2011, while at Lens, before he made the switch to Real Madrid. Sir Alex in his autobiography had mentioned Varane & how United were close to getting him for £3m, until Zidane swayed him & flew him to Madrid.

The tall defender was born in the city of Lille, France. Lille, while being famous as the hometown of Varane, is also famous for the “Siege” in 1940, during the World War 2. The siege where French forces defended the city from the Nazi forces managing to save more than a lakh Allied forces. It was later appreciated by many world leaders that the “gallant” defense of Lille “helped the beleaguered Anglo-French forces around the port to hold out for an additional two to three days and thus save at least 100,000 more troops”.

Lille, that’s the city Raphaël Varane – the defender, hails from. A historic city which has defended the rampant onslaught of the Nazis, saving thousands of lives. Maybe that’s why Varane who hails from the city is such a good defender! The 4 time Champions League winner is a force to reckon with in World Football & is considered by many as a complete defender who never falls to a siege from the opposition attackers. But how does Varane defend, what’s his style of play, what are his attributes, let’s have a look.

As seen in the below heat map, Varane tends to operate as a RCB, often venturing in the midfield to maintain a high line:

Source – sofascore – La Liga 20/21

Lets have a closer look at Varane with some of the best defenders from last season in the PL:

All stats for Domestic League onlyVarane (20-21) Silva (20-21)Dias (20-21)
No. of Players Tackles2523.0031
Tackles in Defensive third (per 90)0.560.740.54
Tackles in Mid third (per 90)
Tackles in Attacking third (per 90)
Vs Dribbles (per 90)   
No. Of Dribbles tackled0.400.420.19
No of times dribbled past + no of tackles0.700.840.73
% of Dribblers tackled57%50%26.1%
No of times dribbled past by opposing player0.300.420.54
No of times applying pressure to a player6.034.745.73
No of times squad gained possession due to pressure 1.921.812.12
Successful Pressure %32%38%37%
Defensive third
Mid third 2.482.372.22
Attacking third 0.360.190.6
No of times blocking the ball1.391.211.42
No of times blocking a shot0.660.600.79
No of times blocking a shot on target0.000.050.00
No of times blocking a pass0.730.600.63
Tackles + Interceptions2.022.371.66
Mistakes leading to an opponents goal0.000.050.00
Aerial Duels   
won %75.30%73.33%68.20%

If you carefully go through the above table, you will see that there is not much of a difference between the top 2 defenders for last season & Varane. However, what Varane will definitely add to, is the aerial prowess that Lindelof lacks & while he was bullied off the ball in crucial encounters, Varane will offer United that steel. Moreover, it will give Captain Maguire the freedom to pass the ball from deep, which he seemed to be particularly good at, when at Leicester.

When you compare Varane to all Center Backs & calculate the percentile for Passing, the numbers seem to be pretty good as shown below, in terms of his passing ability:

Something not many have spoken of, is Varane’s passing ability as displayed in the above chart. The long balls from the defense in the path of wingers/wing-backs, the switches of play, the ball over the midfield into the channels for the attackers to run into, will definitely add a different dimensions to United’s attack.

Importantly, Varane brings pace back to United’s defense, something that both the current CBs lack. Varane, essentially has been playing as a sweeper cover with Sergio Ramos at Madrid & can play the same role with Maguire at United, who can now become the aggressor knowing that Varane can cover him behind with his pace & physicality. The below chart shows how Varane can compliment Maguire:

Source – Maram AlBaharna’s & Twelve Football

When compared to current United center backs, Varane emerges as a complete defender, have a look at the stats below:

Source – Smarterscout

Conclusion – What United lacked last season, when they have had the chance to grab the FA cup (lost to Leicester in semis) & Europa league (lost to Villareal) is a winning mentality, a serial winner, who’s won things & you have just bought a player who’s won it all at Real Madrid. Varane played in 14 finals & won all those 14 finals, that’s something that United have lacked recently. His record of 4 Champions League, 3 La Liga championships, 3 UEFA Super Cups, 4 Fifa Club World Cups, 3 Super Copa & 1 Copa del Rey, proves that he’s a serial winner.

United has just lacked that final push, a winning mentality on the field & I think, that’s the difference that Varane will make apart from the attributes that he brings to the table.

What do you think, will Varane be a flop or a hit? Share your comments below.

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