Varane's Star Rises with Defining Performance in Real Madrid Draw with Barcelona
With 10 minutes remaining in a typically tumultuous Clasico, and despite Barcelona's 1-0 advantage, Real Madrid's Raphael Varane had already staked his claim as the outstanding player of a match graced by the best in the world.
The 19-year-old Frenchman was making his first appearance in football's most vital fixture. Injuries in Madrid's ranks led to his opportunity, and he seized it with all the maturity Jose Mourinho saw in him when he signed Varane from French club Lens (H/T Marca).
Varane had already cleared off the line from Pedro, denied Cesc Fabregas with a brilliant saving tackle and put the strongest of arguments to Mourinho that he deserves to start in Madrid's Champions League last-16 tie against Manchester United.
He wasn't done yet.
With time running out and Madrid perhaps fortunate to still be just one goal down, Mesut Ozil took possession. The German had been isolated and frustrated on the right flank for most of the evening, but this time he found room to cross.
Varane anticipated his inswinging ball, sprung with a conviction that had been lacking in Madrid's finishing all evening and sent a superb header past a helpless Jose Pinto to bring them level. Whether Madrid deserved it is up for debate.
Whether Varane did is not.
On a night billed as the continuing battle between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Varane emerged as the most unlikely of stars. This was his coming-out party, and the early signs suggest Madrid have acquired a defender with the potential to be at the foundation of their trophy challenges for the next decade to come.
Varane's partner Ricardo Carvalho will be more relieved than anyone. The veteran endured a difficult night and was exposed time and again by Barcelona's quick-footed forward play.
The visitors, as usual, dominated possession and, as usual, had to survive an early Madrid flurry. Madrid started with a high line and attempted to force the agenda. Ronaldo had a free kick saved by Pinto, and was inches below a Karim Benzema cross that fizzed over his head a couple of yards out.
Barca bided their time. Soon enough a lifted pass from Andres Iniesta released Jordi Alba, but the fullback finished like a fullback. Then Xavi struck the bar from a free kick. Then Varane slid in to deny them on the goal-line.
By halftime, the game had fallen into its natural rhythm. Barca would have most of the ball, Madrid would threaten on the break.
Straight after the interval, Benzema and Ronaldo linked superbly, only for the Frenchman to blaze over. Five minutes later, Fabregas capitalised on a poor clearance from Jose Maria Callejon to break the Madrid line and sweep a crisp shot past Diego Lopez—in for the injured Iker Casillas.
Fabregas could have added another soon after, but for another fine piece of work from Varane. The former Arsenal man had a further chance in the 70th minute, but again fluffed his lines.
In the meantime, Ronaldo had been agonisingly close to converting Michael Essien's cross to the back post but was thwarted by a fine tackle from Gerard Pique. The Barca man was almost as impressive as Varane, showing his true worth and making a mockery of the criticism he receives.
With 20 minutes to go, Barca were on top, but Madrid's looming threat suggested strongly they needed a second to be safe. Barca's best opportunity to double their lead would fall to Pedro, the winger dragging a shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
Then came Varane's crescendo, a goal that brought the Bernabeu to its feet and pointed towards a brighter future. It was Varane's third goal for Madrid, but it will have felt like his first.
Madrid will go to Camp Nou level at 1-1, and with everything to play for.
Moreover, they will go there with a new star in their ranks.
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