It had been coming for some time, and during the summer it was confirmed. "Varane prepped for step up," ran a Marca headline in June, the Madrid-based daily adding that a "promotion" was imminent after "four years learning the ropes at the Bernabeu."
In his first season in the Spanish capital, he made seven league starts. In his second and third, he made 12. Last season, he made 21. Now in 2015-16, he's on track for considerably more.
Having moved ahead of Pepe in the defensive pecking order, the Frenchman has started nine of Real Madrid's 10 league games this season, and has also started all four of his team's outings in the Champions League.
Ever-present at the back amid injuries to team-mates, the 22-year-old—along with Marcelo and Keylor Navas—has been one of Rafa Benitez's three outstanding defenders this season, and below we examine the form and maturation seen in his game in the early stages of the campaign.
To date this season, Varane has played 1,142 minutes across 13 starts and 14 total appearances, and in that time Real Madrid have conceded just four goals.
For the Frenchman, it's a fine statistic.
It must be acknowledged, however, that Los Blancos' defensive record thus far in 2015-16 is somewhat deceiving.
Under Benitez, Madrid are actually conceding more shots on goal this season than last, per WhoScored.com, while Navas has had a string of extraordinary games with the gloves, with two penalty saves among the Costa Rican's large tally of stops.
Additionally, Granada saw a goal wrongly disallowed at the Bernabeu in September, while some golden chances have been spurned by several opponents, Edinson Cavani being the latest culprit.
For Varane, though, what needs to be factored against that is the constantly changing identity of his defensive companions. Already in the centre-back pairing, he's played alongside Ramos, Pepe and Nacho; on the right, he's been flanked by Daniel Carvajal, Danilo and Alvaro Arbeloa; on the left, he's had Marcelo and Nacho.
In an unsettled defence, Varane has been one of the few constants. A reliable one, too.
As ever, most notable in the Frenchman's game has been the way his pace has masked the deficiencies of others and allowed his full-backs to enjoy more attacking freedom because of the way he can cover ground behind them.
Against Athletic Bilbao, Malaga, Levante and Paris Saint-Germain, his recovery abilities proved extremely important in securing points. Against the latter of those opponents at the Bernabeu, he was exceptional in covering for Danilo, who had a rather torrid time with Maxwell out wide.
Varane was also instrumental in shutting down Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cavani at Parc des Princes, and also accounted for Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann at the Vicente Calderon in early October.
Naturally, of course, there have been some tougher outings, and against Celta Vigo both Varane and Ramos had trouble with Nolito and Iago Aspas, while the Frenchman gave away a penalty against Real Betis and was partly at fault for Luciano Vietto's equaliser in the Madrid derby.
Stats Point to Maturation and Altered Team Dynamic
So far in 2015-16, many of Varane's defensive statistics are on the rise. In tackles, interceptions, clearances and blocks, the former Lens starlet is currently at career highs for his time at the Bernabeu.
As mentioned when analysing Ramos' early season form, part of those increases can be attributed to the way this Real Madrid team is looking to absorb more pressure under Benitez, sitting slightly deeper and negating the threat of counter-attacks, repelling opponents who are front of them.
|Raphael Varane's La Liga Stats (per game)|
|Accurate Long Balls||2.7||3.7||2.8||3.7|
|Yellow Cards (total)||0||1||1||3|
Yet, there's also been a sense that Varane is playing with more presence this season than he has in previous years, also boosting his defensive impact. There's been slightly more vigour to his game, some physicality added to the serenity.
The numbers reinforce that, too.
Already this season, the Frenchman has collected more yellow cards in the league than he had in the previous four seasons combined, while his foul-count per game has more than doubled. Such figures don't necessarily suggest indiscipline, but instead point to a player who's maturing and exerting more influence by physically engaging with opponents more often.
When you watch him live and up close, it's evident that he's becoming more demonstrative and more assertive. More of a leader.
And it's the latter he's expected to truly become at Real Madrid in the coming years.