He made a return to the first-team squad for the 3-0 win over Tottenham at the weekend, starting in the centre of a back three.
But after being named in the lineup for the midweek clash against Atalanta in match day four of the Champions League, Varane went down in the first half with a hamstring problem.
The 28-year-old was immediately replaced by Mason Greenwood with United 1-0 down at the time, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opting to switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation to chase the game.
It was revealed by the manager after the game that initial checks “didn’t look good” and now it has been confirmed that Varane will miss a month of action with a hamstring problem.
The severity of the injury means that should the initial diagnosis of a month prove correct, Varane will miss games against Manchester City, Watford, Chelsea, Arsenal and Villarreal as well as the upcoming internationals.
It couldn’t be worse timing for the Reds, with Harry Maguire in shocking form currently and Victor Lindelof picking up an injury earlier this week too.
Varane’s return coincided with United’s second clean sheet of the season, and their first since Varane featured in the 1-0 win over Wolves. With such important fixtures coming up and the manager’s job on the line according to reports, Solskjaer will have to do without his best defender.
But after returning to Manchester following the game, the club have revealed that he suffered a groin injury in the game and expect him to miss ‘a few weeks’ of action.
In a statement released on the club website, Manchester United said;
“Raphael Varane sustained a groin muscle injury in the UEFA Nations League final and has commenced rehabilitation at the club.
“He will be out for a few weeks.”
With Harry Maguire currently out injured with a calf injury that has seen him miss the international break with England, United face the prospect of travelling to Leicester City at the weekend with Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones as their only fit centre-back options.
The injury comes at an awful times for United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with United also facing Atalanta home and away in the Champions League as well as Liverpool, Man City and Tottenham in the Premier League before the next international break.
Manchester United defender Raphael Varane has sparked panic among supporters after he was substituted for France with an injury.
Varane started in the centre of a back three for the reigning World champions in their UEFA Nations League final against Spain. But after 41 minutes a ball was played over the top and replays showed the 28-year-old grimace with pain.
The former Real Madrid man went down with the ball out of play and after a short period of treatment from the medical staff was immediately substituted, with Bayern Munich defender Dayot Upamecano replacing him.
While the injury wasn’t clear and there was no coming together with another player, Varane was then shown on the bench by Sky cameras with an ice pack strapped to his right thigh.
That would suggest a muscle injury and would likely mean he would miss at least a few weeks if the problem is as bad as it seems.
That is awful news for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, with captain Harry Maguire already out injured with a calf problem picked up against Aston Villa in the Premier League.
That would leave Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones as the only fit centre-back options, with the Ivorian playing just once and Jones yet to feature for the first-team this season.
United’s upcoming fixture schedule is incredibly tough, starting with Leicester at the King Power Stadium next weekend.
They then have back-to-back games at Old Trafford against Atalanta in the Champions League before a huge clash with rivals Liverpool the following weekend.
They then travel to north London to take on Tottenham Hotspur before the return fixture against Atalanta in Europe, before finally taking on Manchester City at Old Trafford on November 6th.
It feels like every summer for the last five summers Manchester United have needed the same positions filled during a transfer window.
A right winger, a striker, a centre-back, a defensive midfielder and full-backs. All of which have been signed in recent years, but none of the quality necessary to make it not a glaring issue within the squad.
But this summer seems a little bit different for the most part when it comes to the transfers the squad are reportedly seeking.
A deal for Jadon Sancho is closer than ever before with the Red Devils having made two bids for the England international so far and the only thing stopping it being accepted is the structure of the payments.
Then there is the news that Raphael Varane really wants to leave Real Madrid this summer and that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are at the front of the queue to make a deal happen.
That’s two top level players that would not only improve the squad this summer but they would also instantly improve the starting lineup too, which can only help to close the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool for next season.
Further to those two United have also been linked with Declan Rice for the defensive midfield position, Kieran Trippier for the right-back role and Edinson Cavani has re-signed for another year as the striker option.
While I don’t necessarily agree with the personnel of the other two incoming transfer targets initially, it’s a positive sign that the club are looking to address problem areas of the squad in one window.
Solskjaer has shown that he has progressed the team to a certain level without getting first-choice targets for much of his tenure, but to kick on to the next level he needs that added quality to lean on when it gets tough.
For the defensive midfield role, United need someone with quality defensive attributes but who can also play football. Just being good defensively isn’t enough for the top clubs and Rice’s attributes on the ball won’t help United when coming up against a low block, which is something they already struggle with.
A defensive midfielder with quality on the ball like Yves Bissouma or Douglas Luiz would cost a fraction of the price and be better suited to what a top midfield really needs.
At right-back Trippier is the right profile of player needed, just the wrong individual. The England and Atletico Madrid defender is a good attacking outlet as well as decent defender, but he is the wrong side of 30 and will take a fair chunk out of the budget for the summer.
United currently have Diogo Dalot and Ethan Laird as young, attacking full-backs that could compete with Aaron Wan-Bissaka in that position but instead Solskjaer wants to sign one as a short-term option.
If signing one is the thing that needs to be done because Solskjaer doesn’t rate Dalot and Laird is moving out on loan for the season, then it should be someone younger that is a target. Tariq Lamptey would be a terrific option, while I’m sure some scouting departments could look at the likes of Germany Under-21 right-back Ridle Baku and see a talented option there.
They’d likely cost less than the reported £35million that Atletico want for Trippier but even if they didn’t, the fee would be far more justified as a long-term investment to compete with Wan-Bissaka on going forward rather than someone coming in for a final big pay day.
Whether we agree with the personnel though, it shows that Solskjaer sees what the fans see and that improvements are needed in specific areas. The fact the business seems to be a priority to get done early is a positive.
The summer transfer window is on the right track for Manchester United, for the most part anyway.
Every now and then you get a nation that has a pool of players available to fill three of four starting XI’s capable of winning a tournament.
Most recently was Spain, who won three international tournaments in a row between 2008-2012, had a generation of players that were part of the most dominant side of the post-war era but were also spread all over the continent at the biggest club sides.
Now, France are the leading generation when it comes to player development with a pool of players to pick from as deep as the Atlantic. But with Euro 2020 around the corner and the World Cup 2022 qualifiers underway, what is their strongest lineup?
There are a handful of positions in the side that aren’t up for debate right now and goalkeeper is one of them.
Tottenham stopper Hugo Lloris is the captain of the national team and has been the man to don the number one shirt since 2009 and is the most capped goalkeeper in the history of Les Blues. He maintains a high level of performance for the team, even since winning the World Cup two years ago and he is still the best option.
Starter: Hugo Lloris
The defence on paper is one of the most stacked positions that manager Didier Deschamps has to choose from. The likes of Aymeric Laporte, Jules Kounde, Wesley Fofana are yet to be capped fully at senior level, while Real Madrid’s starting full-back Ferland Mendy is only recently breaking into the team.
Despite naturally being a left-back, Mendy would be my pick on the right-hand side of the defence. He is both footed, excellent in both directions, quick and great on the ball so would provide plenty of balance to the team. That would also allow Theo Hernandez to continue in the left-back role, where he has been impressive for AC Milan this season and the national team. Lucas Digne is another option, but Hernandez is that bit more dynamic and for me just edges it in their personal battle.
In the centre, Deschamps has so many options. Aside from the three previously mentioned players the likes of Raphael Varane, Presnel Kimpembe, Dayot Upamecano, Kurt Zouma, Clement Lenglet, Ibrahima Konate and even Samuel Umtiti are all candidates for the starting berths. Despite such a plethora of talent, Deschamps is likely to go with the experience and quality of Varane and Kimpembe. They both possess great pace, great positioning, are good aerially and with the ball at their feet while also having leadership qualities.
Starters: Ferland Mendy, Raphael Varane, Presnel Kimpembe, Theo Hernandez
Deschamps tends to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation because of the plethora of attacking options he has, but I think a fluid 4-3-3 formation could be the best way forward. There is already so much depth involved in the position with players such as Adrian Rabiot, Eduardo Camavinga, Moussa Sissoko, Houssem Aouar all in and out of squads.
Without a doubt, if fit, Ngolo Kante and Paul Pogba will be starters in the heart of the pitch with their attributes balancing perfectly to help at both ends of the pitch. Rather than use Antoine Griezmann as the number ten option though, Tanguy Ndombele should come into the team.
The Spurs midfielder has had an excellent season on an individual basis and deserves to start in a slightly more advanced role. For Spurs he has played as both an eight or a ten and has the creative abilities to help the attack. He also allows for familiarity to switch to a more defensive 4-3-3 shape if necessary as he can naturally play in that position also. It would allow Deschamps to use the same players regardless of opposition but slightly alter the setup if necessary.
Starters: Ngolo Kante, Paul Pogba, Tanguy Ndombele
When everyone is fit, the forward department is likely the one easiest to pick from for Deschamps such is the quality of his options.
Olivier Giroud has been a staple of the French national team in recent years as the centre forward and sits just seven goals behind Thierry Henry at the top of the all-time scoring charts for the national team. Despite that, the way he plays means that France’s attacks become a little bit one dimensional. He’s shown an ability in the past for his club that he is able to come off the bench and make a difference and at 34-years-old he’s unlikely to be too picky about it being a starting role or not.
Out wide, Kylian Mbappe is the golden boy of French and potentially world football and is a guaranteed starter. His pace, explosiveness, skill and phenomenal output when it comes to scoring and assisting. On the opposite flank, whether it be on the left or right, Ousmane Dembele is the man that should get the spot. When fit he possesses all the skill and quality to be one of the best in the world and with both men’s ability to play on both flanks it allows plenty of freedom and interchanging throughout a game.
Up front, Antoine Griezmann deserves the spot. His appearance in the 2-0 win over Kazakhstan made it 45 international games in a row that he has featured in, more than anyone else in the post-war era for the French national team. He has a great international record and despite going on bursts of form this season for Barcelona, he currently has 14 goals in all competitions for Los Cules. He’d be able to drop deeper to link the midfield to the attack of play on the shoulder of the defence to run in behind.
Starters: Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele
It’s Champions League time once again as the last 16 is back and the second round of fixtures commences.
Last week we saw the first eight teams compete, with some thrilling fixtures to take us through to the second leg and this week we’ll be hoping for more of the same – starting with Europe’s great entertainers Atalanta as they take on record winners Real Madrid.
The Serie A side currently sit in fifth place in the table, just six points behind second placed AC Milan and come into the game in great form having won their last three games in a row. As for Real Madrid, they’ve managed to significantly close the gap at the top of La Liga but sit six points behind Atletico Madrid in second place as they look to defend their title.
It’s been a tough season for Zinedine Zidane’s side as they’ve been forced to compete with inconsistent form, constant injury problems and several COVID-19 breakouts throughout the campaign. Madrid’s group stages saw them on the verge of elimination at that stage for the first time ever, only for a final day win over Borussia Moenchengladbach to be enough to see both teams through after Inter Milan drew with Shakhtar Donetsk.
Atalanta have been their usual entertaining selves throughout the campaign, scoring 72 goals so far this season including 53 in Serie A – topped only by league leaders Inter. In the group stages of this competition, they were able to navigate a group including Liverpool and Ajax – beating both teams away from home.
Coming into this tie, the Italians will never have a better chance of beating the Spanish giants. Madrid have just 11 senior first-team players available for the first leg – meaning they’re without all of Sergio Ramos, Eder Militao, Alvardo Odriozola, Dani Carvajal, Marcelo, Federico Valverde, Rodrygo, Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema.
With Atalanta only missing Hans Hateboer, they’d be crazy not to go for the kill in the first leg and try and put the tie to bed early. They have the goalscoring capabilities to do so, having score three goals in five of their last eight fixtures and beyond Madrid’s starting eleven they should be able to hold off any threat.
Madrid’s lineup is essentially known prior to kick-off because of their injuries and they’ll have to play in a way that their team maintain discipline and ensure they’re careful about letting the game get away from them. They still have their best midfield out, so have the ability to control a game but the inconsistency of their attack means it’s going to be incredibly difficult to see them score a goal, never mind win the game.
With a three week break between the two legs, Madrid will be hopeful of having some of those players return from injury to bolster their squad. With that said Atalanta’s away record in the competition is exceptional having won every game and conceded no goals and their fast-paced, attacking style could be key to that.
It’s so hard to see Real Madrid keeping a clean sheet even if a few of those players do return to the team by the time the second leg comes round and I think this will be the big shock of the round.
PREDICTIONS: Atalanta 2-0 Real Madrid Real Madrid 1-3 Atalanta (Atalanta to progress, 5-1 on aggregate)
Since the early 90’s, two of the best footballing nations to have played the game are Holland and France.
Countless players have caught the imagination of fans and media alike over the last 30-odd years, so I decided to select the best XI of each country from my lifetime and pit them against each other.
Some incredible footballers have missed out, including the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, the De Boer brothers, Patrick Kluivert, Wesley Sneijder, David Trezeguet, Robert Pires, Paul Pogba and Patrice Evra.
I’m going to justify my selections for my teams here and break down what I think would happen if the two sides had ever met each other for real.
In goal, Holland’s keeper is obvious. Edwin Van Der Sar is a two time Champions League winner and multiple time league winner in two different countries with Ajax and Manchester United. He represented Holland 130 times throughout his career and is largely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers of his generation.
For France the decision was a bit tougher. It was between two World Cup winners in Fabian Barthez and Hugo Lloris but I opted for the Tottenham man in this instance. While Barthez was supreme in his time for France, he was more prone to errors than Lloris and for me his peak didn’t last for as long. Both have exceptional reflexes and decent distribution and I don’t think the squad is any worse off regardless of which one was chosen.
In defence for Holland, one of the best central defensive partnerships ever. Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk is the best defender in the world right now and has been for the last 18 months or so, while Jaap Stam was one of the most dominant in Europe during his peak in the late 90’s/early 00’s. Physically they’re untouchable but they can also compete in a foot race and in the air. They have the ability to play out from the back too to help build attacks early.
For France, it’s a similar story. Raphael Varane is one of Van Dijk’s closest companions at the top of the game right now while Desailly was France’s leader at the back during his time in the national team. Much like Holland’s pairing, they can compete with any sort of attack that comes up against them and would be a brick wall.
The full-backs are the first point where we see an advantage for one side or the other. France’s pairing of Thuram and Lizarazu is balance personified and the epitome of what a full-back duo should be. Individually both are comfortable at both ends of the pitch and equally able to defend their flank. Both are excellent defenders in their own right and are intelligent enough to know when to attack, although Lizarazu could struggle with the physical demands of today’s game a bit more.
Holland’s options aren’t so star-studded. Former Barcelona paid Michael Reiziger and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst are both excellent professionals who won plenty during their career. Despite that, they both have their weaknesses too. Reiziger was never the best one on one defender while Van Bronckhorst was physically on the smaller side, which could be something this French side could look to exploit.
In central midfield, it would be a battle for the ages. Ngolo Kante and Edgar Davids have many similarities in their style, with both incredibly energetic and determined ball-winners who can also play with the ball at their feet too. Davids had a bit more swagger to his game but Kante’s defensive positioning is a thing of wonder. Alongside them both are two of their generation’s best as Patrick Vieira does battle with Clarence Seedorf.
Vieira made his name at Arsenal as a marauding box-to-box midfielder with an eye for goal and a bite to his tackle, while Seedorf was one of the most complete midfielders ever. His passing range, stamina, strength, creativity and striking ability meant he stood out on any pitch he was on and he would look to do similar here.
In attack, it’s two absolutely incredible variations of style, skill and quality.
For France, the new school mix with the old school as Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann partner up with Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane. All World Cup winners and all phenomenally talented, they would be able to rotate almost freely in the attacking areas of the pitch, knowing they are perfectly protected behind them.
Mbappe and Henry’s pace and goalscoring exploits would make them a scary sight for any defence that has ever existed, but especially a Holland side with obvious weaknesses at full-back. Zidane and Griezmann both have the ability to dominate a game in the hole and play killer passes from between the lines, while also carrying a goal threat of their own.
For Holland, it’s much of the same. Arjen Robben and Marc Overmars are among Holland’s greatest wingers ever, with their pace and drive while running from wide positions into the box unmatched by many. Centrally, Robin van Persie and Ruud van Nistelrooy are Holland’s two highest goalscorers ever and would be able to link together to cause plenty of damage. van Persie’s ability to drop deep and link the midfield and attack would allow more space for van Nistelrooy to do what he does best – get in the box and finish.
It would truly be a game for the ages between these two nations and it would be a fantastic spectacle. But who would win?
Looking at the sides, the glaring difference as mentioned already would be the French wingers up against the Dutch full-backs. Everywhere else on the pitch is pretty evenly matched but with France’s two best goal-threats coming against Holland’s two weaker players it just pans out that the French would be able to get a victory because of it.