Will Varane make Man Utd title contenders?

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July 28, 2021
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    Raphael Varane in action for France against GermanyRaphael Varane has 79 caps for France, making his debut in 2013

    Raphael Varane has been described as being a "Rolls-Royce" and "an absolute bargain" after his £34m move from Real Madrid to Manchester United was agreed.

    He will join fellow new arrivals Jadon Sancho, signed from Borussia Dortmund for £73m, and free transfer Tom Heaton at Old Trafford as manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer builds a squad to try to improve on the second place they achieved in the Premier League last season.

    As long as his medical is successful and personal terms are finalised, Varane would take United's spending on players to just short of £400m since Solskjaer was appointed on a permanent basis in March 2019, eclipsing the outlay of Manchester City (£298m), Chelsea (£262m), Tottenham (£255m) Arsenal (£243m) and Liverpool (£119m) in the same period, according to Transfermarkt.

    But can Varane help the 13-time Premier League winners bridge last season's 12-point gap to their local rivals Manchester City? Should we now class them as genuine title contenders as they look to end their eight-year wait to be English champions?

    'Defence wins you titles'

    Sir Alex Ferguson always used to say: "Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles."

    Most Premier League champions have been built from the foundation of a strong back line, and as Liverpool and Manchester City can attest, signing the right centre-back can have an almost instant impact on your chances of success.

    In 2016-17, the year before Liverpool signed Virgil van Dijk, the Reds conceded 42 goals in 38 league games. By 2018-19, the Dutchman's first full season, that total was down to 22. Having finished second, a year later they were champions for the first time in 30 years.

    While Ruben Dias' impact wasn't quite so stark in that sense – City only let in four fewer goals in his debut campaign than they did in 2019-20 – the Portuguese made a huge difference alongside John Stones. With him in the team, Pep Guardiola's men won 38 of 50 matches – a rate of 76% – and kept 25 clean sheets as they eased to a fifth Premier League title, a fourth successive Carabao Cup success and reached the Champions League final.

    Liverpool league goals conceded in full seasons before and after signing Van Dijk in January 2018 Man City league goals conceded in full seasons before and after signing Dias in September 2020
    Before (16-17) 42 Before (19-20) 36
    After (18-19) 22 After (20-21) 32
    Liverpool league shots on target against in full seasons before and after signing Van Dijk Man City league shots on target against in full seasons before and after signing Dias
    Before (16-17) 114 Before (19-20) 107
    After (18-19) 96 After (20-21) 89

    Solskjaer will be hoping the signing of Varane can be similarly transformative. The pacey centre-back, 28, is expected to partner Harry Maguire in the heart of the defence.

    Ex-Everton midfielder Don Hutchinson told BBC Radio Live's Football Daily: "He is an absolute bargain. He is in his prime, is a multiple league winner, multiple Champions League winner, and is coming in as a finished article and one of the quickest centre-backs out there.

    "You imagine his partnership with Harry Maguire would be very good. We have questioned the signings for quite a few years at Manchester United, but this one alongside Sancho shows where they are heading. This is a brilliant signing."

    Former Crystal Palace striker Clinton Morrison added: "Sancho is an exciting signing, but Varane is a hell of a signing. He is a Rolls Royce. Lindelof did well but he doesn't have the pace to cover Maguire. "

    Aerial prowess and flexibility – what will Varane bring?

    Going on last season's stats, Varane is a proven upgrade on new team-mates Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly in a number of key areas, particularly tackles won and aerial duels. The Frenchman won an average of 0.8 of the former per 90 minutes compared with Lindelof's 0.6 and Bailly's 0.3 – and 2.4 of the latter on average, which is 0.1 more efficient than Lindelof and 0.3 than Bailly.

    His strength in the air will be crucial in both boxes. United scored just seven set-piece goals last term, the joint-third fewest in the league. And Varane's pace will allow them to defend with a higher line, enabling Solskjaer to make his team more tactically flexible.

    A World Cup winner with France in 2018, Varane recorded similar numbers of tackles and interceptions last season as Maguire did for United, and the hope is they could bring the best out of one another – like Dias did for Stones on the blue side of the city.

    How Varane compares with Man Utd's centre-backs Varane Maguire Lindelof Bailly
    League games 31 34 29 12
    Tackles per 90 min 0.7 0.9 0.8 0.4
    Interceptions per 90 min 1.2 1.8 1.1 1.1
    Clearances per 90 min 3.5 3.6 3 3
    Blocks per 90 min 0.6 0.7 0.6 0.9

    'They look like real title contenders'

    Stats don't tell the full story though. Becoming a great defender is as much about mentality – and Varane is a winner. He has played in 10 finals, including four in the Champions League and one in the World Cup, and won them all.

    In contrast, Solskjaer has not yet won a trophy since taking over in December 2018, with defeat by Villarreal in the Europa League final in Gdansk extending his frustrating wait.

    And, together with the earlier signing of Sancho, ex-Everton midfielder Leon Osman believes they now can't be ruled out of the title race this season.

    He told the Football Daily podcast: "We were all looking at Manchester United and thinking they were two players away – a centre-back and right-sided player. And they have gone and got them, like a top club does. They look like they are having a real good go and look like they could be real title contenders next season.

    "Their issue is Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool are looking strong. Do I think they will win the title? No, I don't. But you can only ask a team to improve and Manchester United are doing that."

    Hutchinson added: "I think they are slightly behind Manchester City still. Liverpool will be back – [Ibrahima] Konate is a brilliant signing, although Jurgen [Klopp] could do with one or two players still.

    "They are the teams to beat – and I wouldn't discount Chelsea, if they make signings. If they get that number nine I think they will scare the others and Manchester United are in the hunt as well.

    "We are in for a brilliant Premier League – it is a four-horse race."

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    409 commentsShowLatestOldestHighest RatedMost Replied

    • M

      Comment posted by Marco1987, today at 15:17

      Short answer – No
      Long answer – still no7613

      • R

        Reply posted by Rutland3, today at 15:46

        "Short answer – No Long answer – still no"Rutland3 replied: Not fit to lace VVD boots!3240

      More replies (13)

    • R

      Comment posted by Redallover, today at 14:48

      Another Man Utd HYS…..what took you so long!!!7523

      • F

        Reply posted by FootballKing, today at 15:40

        "Another Man Utd HYS…..what took you so long!!!"FootballKing replied: Man United fans love to pump up their tyres. Do they remember how boring they played last season. Best attack move is fall over for a penalty. Total Yawn fest. Lucky fans weren’t in the stands.

        Ole cant manage, he will be under more pressure and crumble the theatre of dreams will fall at the seams!!!4732

      More replies (6)

    • W

      Comment posted by Whatever, today at 14:51

      Probably not, but VAR will certainly keep them up there.6824

      • S

        Reply posted by SteH11, today at 16:02

        "Probably not, but VAR will certainly keep them up there."SteH11 replied: 40 penalties over the last 2 seasons. You’re not wrong!!256

      More replies (3)

    • T

      Comment posted by Tennent, today at 15:06

      I have to presume that only Man U supporters voted for them as winners5214

      • L

        Reply posted by Luke, today at 16:26

        "I have to presume that only Man U supporters voted for them as winners"Luke replied: no I voted runners up! But between you and me… we’re going top win it!68

    • S

      Comment posted by Stulad, today at 14:51

      Looking at the United team on paper there’s still a question mark over central midfield.

      Similar to England Ole ultimately needs to ditch the two holding midfielders and get a quality defensive mid who can pass in (ie another Carrick) plus there’s the question of Pogba and whether he will have to be replaced as well.

      But some key positions massively upgraded so far.351

      • P

        Reply posted by Percy, today at 15:06

        "Looking at the United team on paper there’s still a question mark over central midfield.Similar to England Ole ultimately needs to ditch the two holding midfielders and get a quality defensive mid who can pass in (ie another Carrick) plus there’s the question of Pogba and whether he will have to be replaced as well.But some key positions massively upgraded so far."Percy replied: Need to get rid of the dead wood.
        Maybe then Utd can go for third signing in the form of a central defensive midfielder.
        Get shot of Pogba and Fred replace with Rice and of course get a manager who can read and alter a game but I think that will come next season when Solskjaer yet again fails to win a trophy.1213

      More replies (4)

    • D

      Comment posted by DaveMT, today at 15:13

      Having spent £400m in just over 2 years, with according to the papers more spend to come, you would have expected them to be challengers or you would/should sack the manager. Will they win it – I don’t think they will.313

      • L

        Reply posted by Lonster, today at 15:29

        "Having spent £400m in just over 2 years, with according to the papers more spend to come, you would have expected them to be challengers or you would/should sack the manager. Will they win it – I don’t think they will."Lonster replied: They were strong challengers…for the Europa League trophy which they narrowly missed out on because de Gea didn’t read the ‘dive’ notes.128

      More replies (1)

    • G

      Comment posted by Gate49, today at 14:48

      No.349

      • C

        Reply posted by Ceciliars, today at 16:09

        "No."Ceciliars replied: Varane is a poor man’s Konate.1814

      More replies (3)

    • S

      Comment posted by STILL ON OUR PERCH, today at 15:35

      not with Ole in charge…

      top 3 will be Liverpool Chelsea and Man city. not sure what order though

      man u will be scraping with Leicester for 4th at best.3923

      • M

        Reply posted by Moreon, today at 16:23

        "not with Ole in charge…top 3 will be Liverpool Chelsea and Man city. not sure what order though man u will be scraping with Leicester for 4th at best."Moreon replied: Do you use a crystal ball or are you a time traveller..35

      More replies (2)

    • U

      Comment posted by Unknown User, today at 14:53

      Title Contenders definatly, Title Winners probably not at this point in my opinion.173

    • D

      Comment posted by Davemezzblueparkend, today at 15:17

      Amazing how FFP only includes certain teams but not the ones who wanted to set up the ESL. Fans have very short memories. Good signing for Utd fans though. Top 4 beckons as your neighbours are about to spend 3 times as much as you on 2 players.132

      • F

        Reply posted by Force Kin, today at 15:19

        "Amazing how FFP only includes certain teams but not the ones who wanted to set up the ESL. Fans have very short memories. Good signing for Utd fans though. Top 4 beckons as your neighbours are about to spend 3 times as much as you on 2 players."Force Kin replied: I always wonder that, how a club as many millions in debt as Man U are can still spend like money is no object, yet if you or I did it, we’d have been jailed long ago246

      More replies (7)

    • D

      Comment posted by Diamond Flight, today at 15:14

      “Does defender mean Man Utd are Premier League title contenders”?

      No, because he and the team are managed by Solskjær who is nowhere good enough to deliver a title. The most important signing they need to make is a new manager. A contract extension simply condemns them to obscurity for the duration of it.3322

      • B

        Reply posted by baldeagle4travel, today at 15:38

        "”Does defender mean Man Utd are Premier League title contenders”?No, because he and the team are managed by Solskjær who is nowhere good enough to deliver a title. The most important signing they need to make is a new manager. A contract extension simply condemns them to obscurity for the duration of it."baldeagle4travel replied: And which oraface did you use to say that bull?????520

      More replies (5)

    • B

      Comment posted by bigwats99, today at 14:56

      Maguire, pogba and Fernandes didn’t make them title contenders …. So I don’t think he will make them187

      • P

        Reply posted by Paul M, today at 15:17

        "Maguire, pogba and Fernandes didn’t make them title contenders …. So I don’t think he will make them"Paul M replied: Apart from when we were sitting pretty at the top of the Prem, when we suddenly lost loads of players; Cavani and Pogba especially.

        Pogba can’t be relied on to do it every game. At least Bruno tries. Move Pogba on.

        Varane at the back is going to make a huge difference. Massive upgrade.1410

      More replies (4)

    • C

      Comment posted by Citizen Nev, today at 14:49

      Can already hear the furious keyboard tapping of the ABU brigade3221

      • N

        Reply posted by namosan, today at 15:00

        "Can already hear the furious keyboard tapping of the ABU brigade"namosan replied: No1210

      More replies (2)

    • O

      Comment posted by over, today at 16:28

      Never in the field of football endeavour has a club spent so much for so little reward

      Winston Gunnar Solskjaer122

      • H

        Reply posted by holmfirthred, today at 17:13

        "Never in the field of football endeavour has a club spent so much for so little rewardWinston Gunnar Solskjaer"holmfirthred replied: Don’t let the facts spoil your ‘joke’00

    • L

      Comment posted by lee, today at 16:02

      They will be top of the most awarded penalty league144

      • J

        Reply posted by Jurgen Gurner, today at 16:04

        "They will be top of the most awarded penalty league"Jurgen Gurner replied: there is no such league.47

    • D

      Comment posted by davros, today at 16:14

      Rolls Royce varane hybrid Sancho Heaton ? Morris marina ?90

      • B

        Reply posted by Boss Times, today at 16:20

        "Rolls Royce varane hybrid Sancho Heaton ? Morris marina ?"Boss Times replied: Morris Ital30

    • B

      Comment posted by Bielsas Binoculars, today at 15:52

      Man u spending eclipses that of ‘state owned oil money’ city and the BBC writers write nothing but positive ‘story’s ‘. Imagine what the BBC would write if City had just speculated £78 million on an unproven 20 year old and £34 million on a Madrid reject.189

      • U

        Reply posted by Unknown User, today at 15:57

        "Man u spending eclipses that of ‘state owned oil money’ city and the BBC writers write nothing but positive ‘story’s ‘. Imagine what the BBC would write if City had just speculated £78 million on an unproven 20 year old and £34 million on a Madrid reject."Unknown User replied: Man Utd are only spending money they earnt, they are entitĺed to spend it how they want.911

      More replies (6)

    • D

      Comment posted by DanWoodley, today at 15:42

      Since 2013, Man United have spent £287m on these defenders..
      Marcos Rojo
      Luke Shaw
      Daley Blind
      Matteo Darmian
      Eric Bailly
      Victor Lindelof
      Diogo Dalot
      Aaron Wan-Bissaka
      Harry Maguire
      Alex Telles102

      • M

        Reply posted by Mark C, today at 15:45

        "Since 2013, Man United have spent £287m on these defenders..Marcos RojoLuke ShawDaley BlindMatteo DarmianEric BaillyVictor LindelofDiogo DalotAaron Wan-BissakaHarry Maguire Alex Telles"Mark C replied: Pogba?23

      More replies (3)

    • C

      Comment posted by Christoffer, today at 15:15

      They should make the top 4 with their customary 2 pens every game …. :-)1911

      • C

        Reply posted by Cat Olefunt, today at 15:31

        "They should make the top 4 with their customary 2 pens every game …. :-)"Cat Olefunt replied: Except leicester had more penalties than united last year.148

      More replies (3)

    • T

      Comment posted by Tom the bomb, today at 15:58

      As a United fan… we will not win the title as long as we have Fred and mctominay starting together.81

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