Manchester United have plenty of problems at the moment and the absence of Raphael Varane is near the top of the list.
The four-time Champions League winner has only played nine times for United but it’s in the games that he has missed that the impact he is already making begins to shine through.
Despite the fact that he has come into a defence in which two of its members – Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw – have seen their form fall of a cliff since the summer and the other in Aaron Wan-Bissaka hasn’t had much form to speak of for quite a while, Varane has still looked good.
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Adapting to a new league after a decade in Spain isn’t easy but he already looks comfortable in England, capable to get in among the rough and tumble but his elegance and reading of the game often mean he can bypass that anyway with a well timed interception or tackle.
Since Varane made his debut in the 1-0 victory over Wolves, United have won 5 of the seven games in which he has started, a win percentage of 71.4. In stark contrast, they have won just one of the six games in which he didn’t start. A mere 16.67 per cent.
It’s a small sample size, of course, but with the Frenchman likely to miss upcoming matches against Villarreal, Chelsea and a resurgent Arsenal that percentage could be getting even lower after the international break.
The difference in United’s last three Premier League matches tells you all you need to know, as well. Against Liverpool, United were absolutely hopeless defensively, pretty much every player got dragged out of position and they were duly ripped to shreds.
The next match was against a much lower standard opponent in Tottenham, but the marked increase in organisation at the back with Varane’s experienced presence – along with a much needed formation change – was obvious.
After suffering an injury against Atalanta in the week, Varane was then unavailable for the visit of neighbours Manchester City and this time two ridiculous defensive errors cost them.
Both mistakes stemmed from a total lack of communication at the back, players not being informed where dangers were. Eric Bailly sliced at a clearance when he was under no pressure and could have left the ball, Shaw did leave a cross completely unaware that Bernardo Silva was sneaking in behind him.
United probably would have lost even if Varane was in the side, but it’s hard to imagine the defence would have looked quite as listless with him there to provide the leadership that was so clearly lacking.
Against Spurs, United conceded just nine shots and not a single one was on target. Liverpool had 19 attempts, eight on target, while City had 16 and five on target. That’s even with both of those teams completely taking their foot of the gas in the second half.
Eric Bailly (right) turned the ball into his own net inside less than ten minutes. (Image: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images.) Varane’s importance is already clear, which makes his current injury plight even more of a problem.
While it’s understood he wasn’t rushed back from injury after missing three matches with a groin strain picked up on international duty, he played just 128 minutes of football before he was then struck down by a hamstring injury.
A month lay-off is expected at least and he will likely miss the next four matches against some tough opposition, that is a significant chunk of the season to be missing – especially with the trouble United are in.
The sooner he gets back the better, but that might come to late for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
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