Having not started a Premier League game since September, firstly due to injury and then for tactical reasons, Raphaël Varane produced an education-worthy display of box defending at Anfield as United drew 0-0.
Had Raphaël Varane not been on the field, the score at Anfield would likely have been very different, which is a testament to just how colossal the performance was from the Frenchman. He ended the game having cleared the ball a ridiculous 15 times, whilst also blocking two shots, intercepting three passes and winning all of his duels in the air.
Usually Manchester United‘s vice-captain, the armband was delegated elsewhere in what was a slightly questionable decision by Erik ten Hag, but you would hardly have noticed, because Varane’s leadership and organisational qualities were standout in a game that United spent largely under pressure.
From the very start of the game, United were camped in their box, with Liverpool throwing all the pressure they had at Ten Hag’s men. But at times, it felt like almost every single ball that went into United’s box was met by the Frenchman. From 34 shots, Liverpool had just one big chance.
After every clearance, every block, he would rally his teammates. The unity was clear to see in United’s collective performance, and perhaps no player was closer to the heart of that than Raphaël Varane. It can be summed up by him sharing his Player of the Match award with his fellow defenders and goalkeeper.
Crucially regarding Varane’s performance, he was played as the left-sided centre-back in the pairing with Jonny Evans on the right, he also featured on the left on Wednesday night against Bayern Munich.
This makes recent events look quite perplexing because the reason Ten Hag dropped Varane was due to wanting someone ‘more comfortable’ on the left-hand side of the defence in possession, for the sake of buildup angles. It was his partner on the right side, Jonny Evans, who was being favoured to play there over him.
These angles are important, but United were not even consistently building up in a lot of these games – preferring the long ball approach that has been a feature of their season. This was once again favoured at Anfield, yet in the moments United did pass out from the back, Varane looked absolutely fine, as he did on Wednesday.
It is known that Varane is comfortable using both feet – in his first season at Old Trafford, he was the most two-footed passer in the Premier League – but the angles did not seem to be a problem for him either. He completed the majority of his passes with some good balls given, it was he who found Scott Mctominay in the build-up to Alejandro Garnacho’s chance.
So having seen his performances in these two games, and knowing the impact he has on the side as their defensive leader, the question of why he was being benched and seeing no minutes has got to be asked of United’s management team.
In the time he was out of the team, United had some incredibly damaging results. A 3-1 lead at Galatasaray turned into a 3-3 draw, United were hammered 3-0 by Manchester City at home, Ten Hag’s men saw defeat away at Newcastle, and they were embarrassed by Bournemouth at home in a 3-0 defeat.
This is not to say that Varane alone singlehandedly stops all of those results, but at this point, it is pretty clear that United with him are a better team than without him regardless of his flaws.
The biggest of these flaws is his availability, which is why bringing in a long-term replacement such as António Silva or Lenny Yoro is something that United should do next summer. But in terms of his qualities as a player, and his importance as a person in United’s squad, Varane, for now, is indispensable for Erik ten Hag, and hopefully, the last couple of games have taught him this.
Ten Hag would be wise to admit his mistake in leaving Raphaël Varane out of the team and reinstate him as a main-stay in the starting XI.
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