Barcelona and Real Madrid are hands down the two biggest clubs in Spain. Stars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo receive the bulk of the spotlight, but there have been two other players that have been talked about extensively over the last year.
Gerard Pique was widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the world just a few years ago, but then his form seemed to drop. On the other hand, Raphael Varane broke out last season and is already making waves across the world of football.
But which of these two star center-backs is better? In this article we will seek to answer that question using various criteria for comparison.
As always feel free to have your say in the comment section below and note that all statistics are courtesy of Squawka.com.
When comparing these two center-backs it is very important that we address their experience. However, it is also important to note that experience alone does not determine who is better.
Six years separate these stars as Pique is currently 26 years old while Varane has only recently turned 20.
In his already successful career Pique has won the Champions League, World Cup, and European Championships. On top of that he has also won the La Liga trophy several times as well as the Copa del Rey, Spanish Supercup and Club World Cup.
Though he is only 26 years old, Pique has already accomplished more than most players ever will in their entire career.
In comparison, Varane has not really had the opportunity to achieve the success that Pique has. At only 20 years of age Varane may have already put in dominant performances, but he hasn’t been the face of a championship squad at this point.
It would be shocking if Varane were to end his career without winning several trophies, but for now that is not the case.
Experience plays a very important role in comparing players, but in the case of Pique and Varane it needs to be understood that we are talking about two players at very different stages of their careers.
Whereas experience looks at a player over his entire career, form is always based on the present. But a player also cannot be judged on current form alone as it is a thing that can change at any time.
For Raphael Varane fans have only really seen him play for about 12 months. The form he showed last season was unbelievable, and the case could be made that he was directly competing with the best defenders in the world.
In truth form and experience have been intertwined for Varane, but things have not been great lately. In May, Goal.com reported that the 20-year-old would be undergoing knee surgery, and Marca.com has only announced this week that he has returned to the Real Madrid squad.
However, where Varane made his name known to the world last season for his great performances, Pique did so for the opposite reasons.
The Catalan center-back made several mistakes last year and had countless matches where it looked as though he had completely forgotten how to defend. Pique’s form not only dropped, it plummeted.
If we were to base our comparison on experience alone, Pique would win outright. Yet if we were to base it on current form, Varane would get the nod over the last year.
But what makes each defender the player they are? Let’s take a look at them individually.
In his short time in the spotlight Varane has already had to deal with the likes of Lionel Messi, Didier Drogba and Robin van Persie to name a few. But not only has he had to defend great stars, for the most part he has shut them down.
The 20-year-old is an excellent one-on-one defender and does not take chances. He knows when to tackle and it is rare to see an opponent take the ball past him.
Varane is also a very capable defender in the air and single-handedly gives Real Madrid an upgrade when defending set pieces when he is on the pitch.
The young Frenchman may not be a hard tackler, but he is a wonderful ball-winner. He doesn’t commit a lot of fouls and knows how to keep the ball in front of him.
Having only been on the big stage for about 12 months it is hard to nail down the weaknesses of Varane.
Despite his age he is very mature, but his positioning could be improved as well as his ability to play with the ball at his feet. He is sometimes slow to react when needed to cover for a teammate, but all of that will come with more time.
As of right now there are a lot more positives for Raphael Varane than there are negatives, that’s for sure.
Gerard Pique made his name as a defender who is not only able to protect his keeper but who is also able to go forward with the ball. Passing is a very strong part of his game, and there aren’t many defenders better at it than the Catalan.
Only a few years ago the now 26-year-old was creating headaches for players like Cristiano Ronaldo as he used his pace and strength to keep attackers off the ball and make sure that chances weren’t created.
The pace is still there for Pique, but his ability to defend the ball has somewhat dropped. He is still a very strong defender and one who knows how to tackle, but he is much easier to beat one-on-one than he used to be.
Above anything else, Pique’s ability to read the game stands out.
The Catalan makes most of his defensive actions by intercepting the ball and knowing when to step up to cut off passing lanes. He reads the game very well for a defender and understands how opponents like to attack.
However, over the last year some weaknesses have begun to creep into his game.
Despite his tall frame Pique is surprisingly weak in the air and can be beaten by headers. He struggles to mark defenders when the ball is played into the box and has paid for it several times.
But perhaps his most worrisome weakness is his focus. At times Pique seems to forget what is happening and is either caught out of position or makes a costly mistake.
When he is at the top of his game Gerard Pique is one of the best defenders around. Sadly for Barcelona, the Catalan defender has rarely been at his best recently.
All things aside, comparing two defenders at different stages of their careers is a hard thing to do. Experience and form play vital roles but cannot single-handedly determine who is better.
But if a team had to choose between Raphael Varane and Gerard Pique to lead their back line, the most likely choice would be the young Frenchmen.
He has not showed any glaring weaknesses and can still improve a lot because he is very young. Varane stands out as a more than capable true defender and does the job well. He doesn’t take risks and knows how to win the ball back.
At this point Pique is much more of a leader and could be just as good as Varane, but it seems as though his glory days may be in the rearview mirror.
When you take into account that Varane could be one of the best defenders in the world in just a year or two the comparison seems easy. He has already shut down the likes of Lionel Messi, and the scary thing is that his career is only just beginning.
Which defender do you think is better? Can Pique rediscover his best form? Is Varane close to being the best around? Leave your thoughts and comments below!
Tre’ Atkinson. Follow me on Twitter for more discussions on all things Spanish football!