In recent seasons, the signing of high-profile central defenders played a key part in both Liverpool and Manchester City winning the Premier League title. Manchester United haven’t been champions, nor in truth ever looked likely to lift the trophy, since the Sir Alex Ferguson era came to an end.
That could all be about to change, however, with the Red Devils reaching an agreement with Real Madrid for France centre-back Raphael Varane. The fee United are set to pay upfront is a relative bargain at a reported £34,000,000 for the World Cup winner.
Just to compare, that is less than half the amount that Virgil van Dijk cost Liverpool when they bought him from Southampton in January 2018. It is also £17,000,000 fewer than Benfica received in the initial money paid by Manchester City for Ruben Dias last summer.
𝗕𝗼𝗻𝘀𝗼𝗶𝗿, 𝗥𝗲𝗱𝘀 👋
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) July 27, 2021
In Varane, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is getting a defender with very little to prove. As well his success on the global stage with his country, he won three La Liga titles and the UEFA Champions League four times at the Bernabeu. It does seem strange that Real Madrid appear willing to let both Varane and long-serving centre-back partner Sergio Ramos leave in the same transfer window.
Their loss could very much be United’s gain. They had the worst defensive record of the Premier League’s top four last season, conceding 44. That was two more than Liverpool, who lost both Netherlands captain Van Dijk and England international Joe Gomez to long-term injuries that ended their campaign early in the autumn.
Dias made a major difference to Man City, meanwhile. The decision not to replace outgoing captain Vincent Kompany ahead of the 2019-20 season was one that cost Pep Guardiola’s team. However, the Etihad outfit learned from their mistake and rectified it, securing the best defensive record as the regain the Premier League title last term with just 32 goals shipped.
Champions League winners Chelsea also had a meaner defence than United with just 36 conceded. Even Arsenal, who finished a below par eighth, let in fewer goals than Solskjaer’s side. Varane will certainly look to help improve the Red Devils at the back by tightening things up.
There is an old saying in football that strikers win matches but defenders secure championships. If Van Dijk and Dias’s displays are any indicator, then there is plenty of truth in that. United, who were best of the rest behind neighbours City last season, are 8/1 chances on sports betting site 888 Sport to go one better this term. Those odds put the Red Devils only fourth in the market.
Varane, who has been described as a defender with a Rolls Royce engine, could form a particularly effective partnership with Harry Maguire at the back for United. This really has the potential to be a game-changer signing for Solskjaer because Varane is already the finished article after achieving so much in football before arriving in Manchester.