Why Raphael Varane Should Start for Real Madrid Against Manchester United
In the summer of 2011 when Real Madrid swooped for a young French central defender, Barcelona-based newspaper Mundo Deportivo claimed it was "a signing to satisfy Zinedine Zidane and make him feel his opinions count."
Two years later, it is ironic that the very same defender, Raphael Varane, should have his coming of age match when losing his Clasico virginity against Barca last month.
Brought to the Spanish capital from Lens for a reported fee of $12 million, it was always the case that the 19-year-old would have had to bide his time before becoming a regular feature in Los Blancos' starting 11. After all, Sergio Ramos and Pepe are quite good.
But with Jose Mourinho facing a defensive crisis at the start of 2013, the 6'3" defender has been thrust into first the action and then the limelight following his sensational man-of-the-match performance in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal.
The signs of his development and progression have long been there. Already this season he has featured in five of Real Madrid's six Champions League games, completing four.
Against Mallorca in October, as Madrid won 5-0, he was comfortable, composed and classy—likewise against Osasuna as he started a run of games in the first team at the beginning of the calendar year.
Sir Alex Ferguson will know all about Varane too. The defender comes from the same France under-19 side as Paul Pogba, and but for Zidane's influence and Manchester United signing Phil Jones the Frenchman could have ended up in England.
Should Varane get the nod against Man Utd?
Mourinho promised Madridstas that they "have a top central defender for the next 10 years" and with that decade seemingly started it doesn't seem that daring all of a sudden to imagine Varane, who possesses searing pace, in the starting lineup at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night.
Despite just 14 appearances for Madrid this season, his performance in the Clasico—where he scored the equalizer, denied Xavi on the line and produced world-class challenges on Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi—demonstrate his readiness for such an occasion.
Los Blancos' 4-1 win over Sevilla at the weekend heralded the return of Pepe. The Portuguese defender came on for the last 22 minutes, but does that leave him with the adequate match practice required to line up against a United attack including Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie?
That is what Mourinho will have to decide. The Madrid coach could even play both Varane and Pepe, shift Ramos to right back—at the risk of angering him—and Alvaro Arbeloa to left back with Fabio Coentrao the man to make way.
Mundo Deportivo's claims of Varane being a political signing now look silly, and as he looks set to embark on many years at the top it seems his inclusion—should Mourinho start him—against the Red Devils would be less of a surprise sprung and more of a common sense decision.
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