Return of Raphael Varane Opens up Defensive Options for Real Madrid

Paul WilkesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2014

Real's Raphael Varane in action with Atletico's Cristian Rodriguez during a semi final, 2nd leg, Copa del Rey soccer derby match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid, Tuesday Feb. 11 , 2014.  (AP Photo/Gabriel Pecot)
Gabriel Pecot/Associated Press

Injuries to Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao at the weekend meant that Real Madrid kicked off the second half with their third left-back of the match. Both players have had their fitness issues in the past, so it's understandable that Carlo Ancelotti wasn't willing to let Coentrao leave in the January transfer window, via Manchester Evening News.

The Italian had been able to rotate both his full-backs between the Copa del Rey and the league up until this point, now Alvaro Arbeloa was slotting in on the left of the defence once more. "Both are available, but I still haven’t thought about the lineup for tomorrow," commented Ancelotti on the left-backs in his pre-match press conference on Monday, via Inside Spanish Football.

Coentrao and Marcelo are fit, but for how long? The club can at least take solace in the fact that Raphael Varane is back in action.

In last night's Madrid derby, Varane returned to the starting XI after missing three months of the season. The French defender played the full 90 minutes on his comeback.

Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

"I felt great," said Varane in the mixed zone after the match, per Inside Spanish Football. "It is great to be back out on the field after so long. We’re going to see how the knee responds over the next few days, to see if it swells. I haven’t had any problems during the match and I have trained hard to get to this point."

Madrid's incredible defensive record at the start of this calendar year has seen them concede only three times in 12 matches, including a run of eight clean sheets. Pepe and Sergio Ramos have been rocks at the heart of the defence.

"We have no problems with either of them. The only thing I want to do is put Varane in there, so that one of the two can have a rest. Varane also needs minutes and needs to play," continued Ancelotti.

Varane has been a target for Manchester United in the past, via The Express, even though he has played frequently under Ancelotti and his predecessor Jose Mourinho.

He has been used in the biggest of matches, featuring in two Champions League group matches and El Clasico, before his knee problem. Last term he was trusted with the encounters against Manchester United, Galatasaray and Borrusia Dortmund.

"So far I have played one match and we’ll see if I can play two in a row. The team needs all of the players and we have to be ready if we want to win titles. Everyone is thinking about that," Varane admits after his workout.

Varane can take a centre-back role, with Sergio Ramos moving to right-back if need be. The Frenchman wouldn't be out of his depth if he was fielded in either full-back position.

Another option is to push Pepe into midfield or even use a formation with a back three. The squad becomes that little more flexible with a quality player recovering from injury.

"I told him at the start of the season that I thought he would be one of the best centre-backs in the world in a couple of years," said team-mate Pepe 12 months ago, via Sid Lowe at The Guardian.

This time last year, he really pushed on in his performances and that's good news for Ancelotti, and everyone else at the Bernabeu.