Manchester United are in the market for a centre-back this summer and Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane is their preferred target.
Varane is out of contract in Madrid next year and is yet to commit to a new deal, leaving the club in a difficult spot heading into the next transfer window.
If the World Cup-winning Frenchman declines a new deal Bernabeu bosses will have to sanction his exit.
The MEN recently revealed that Madrid’s preference would be to cash in over the summer instead of letting Varane walk away for free in 2022.
It’s a transfer that would excite supporters and one which would greatly enhance United’s prospects of closing down Manchester City.
United’s defence has been reasonably mean this season, with just City, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur boasting better goals against columns.
But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had to sacrifice his attacking principles on occasions to keep it to 33 goals conceded in 30 matches in the Premier League, especially in the games against the other members of the traditional ‘Big Six’ where United have really struggled in comparison to City.
The victory over City at The Etihad in March is United’s only three points from eight games against fellow Big Six clubs this campaign.
What’s more concerning is that United have scored just three goals in all of those matches – but there’s a reason for that.
Solskjaer has felt the need to shield his back four of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw with the solid two-man midfield screen of Fred and Scott McTominay in a move which has sharpened United at the back but blunted them in attack.
The United boss has learnt his lesson from the early-season 6-1 embarrassment to Spurs and Fred and McTominay are now his trusted midfield two when the biggest games come around.
Unsurprisingly the change has led to a significant reduction in creativity, highlighted by United’s 0.87 Expected Goals (xG) tally across those eight fixtures.
But the capture of Varane – a world-class defender in every sense – would allow Solskjaer to take the handbrake off and win more points from the teams around United.
Lindelof has been Solskjaer’s preferred partner for United captain Maguire, but there are still doubts over whether the partnership is solid enough to mount a genuine title challenge. Eric Bailly has impressed on occasions, though his United career has been heavily disrupted by injuries.
Varane has won a remarkable 74 per cent of his defensive duels in La Liga this season, compared to Maguire (69.3%), Lindelof (58.9%) and Bailly (59.4%) in the Premier League.
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A partnership of Varane and Maguire wouldn’t need the same level of protection and could therefore allow Solskjaer to drop one of his holding midfielders and reinstate Paul Pogba alongside Bruno Fernandes.
Pogba’s position in the starting XI for these key games has rarely been in central midfield, with Solskjaer tending to cram him into the team in a wide role.
A fully fit and firing Pogba is United’s second most creative player after Fernandes, so finding a formula which allows them both to thrive is of paramount importance.
And Varane, who plays behind Pogba in France’s national team, is the perfect defender to set United up to attack their title rivals rather than fear them.