Manchester United and boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appear to be making significant progress in their approach to sign French defender Raphaël Varane from European rivals Real Madrid. The 28-year-old has been with the La Liga giants since 2011 when he joined from Lens. The 6ft 3” centre half has made over 300 competitive appearances for Real, winning three domestic championships as well as four Champions League winners’ medals. This proven winner would appear to slot in seamlessly alongside Red Devils skipper Harry Maguire.

Varane has just 12 months remaining on his current contract at the Bernabeu Stadium and Real are keen to cash in on their asset instead of allowing the Lille-born stopper to depart for free next summer. Reports suggest that the United hierarchy have been given permission to discuss personal terms with Varane and a transfer fee is seemingly close to being agreed. Varane is thought to be keen not to return to Madrid after his EURO 2020 exertions with France, and prefers the ideal of travelling straight to Carrington to meet up with his new United teammates.

Solskjaer must be careful to prevent a burn-out for his potential new-look central defence

A central defensive pairing of Varane and Maguire would certainly go down well in the eyes of most United fans. However, most savvy supporters will be mindful that both have endured a long and draining 2021 so far, culminating in their appearance in the EURO 2020 finals. With just a fortnight’s rest available to the duo ahead of returning for pre-season training, some fans may fear either player could suffer a burn-out during the 2021/22 English Premier League (EPL) campaign.

Varane’s presence is much needed to provide proven support for Maguire. United’s backline conceded the highest number of goals in the top four last season, with 44 goals conceded compared with Manchester City’s miserly 32 goals conceded. Recent analysis by the BBC also found that games in the early part of the 2020/21 EPL season – which were played behind closed doors – yielded many more goals than the previous season where fans were permitted. After the opening 38 games of last term, the average was 3.79 goals per game, the highest goals per game average in 90 years.

Second time lucky for Manchester United?

Varane’s arrival at Old Trafford this summer would mark a ten-year anniversary of Sir Alex Ferguson’s advances to bring Varane to United from Lens. At the time, Varane spurned the chance to play under Fergie, but Solskjaer may have more luck in bringing him to the club as an established world-class central defender. While Varane was eyed as a long-term replacement for Rio Ferdinand in 2011, Solskjaer will almost certainly see Varane as an upgrade on Swede Victor Lindelöf.

Varane is a right-footed centre back just like Lindelöf, so it would essentially be a straight swap. Varane is also one of the quickest defenders in Europe across the ground, which would be the ideal foil for Harry Maguire, whose ball retention and aerial dominance are his best attributes. Varane also has an immense aerial presence, which should help United in both boxes. Furthermore, Varane’s decade of experience with Real should ensure he is an exceptional mentor to young full backs like Aaron Wan-Bissaka, whose positional sense could be enhanced by playing alongside a leader like Varane.

Of course, Varane’s arrival could also be the player Solskjaer needs to be able to switch to a back three. Varane could slot in at the heart of a back three, with Maguire and Lindelöf playing either side of the Frenchman using the zonal marking that Solskjaer seemingly likes so much. A 3-5-2 system would give Solskjaer licence to give his wing backs more attacking freedom, while Varane’s ball-playing attributes would align neatly with Maguire’s to enable United to build more patiently from the back.

Alternatively, Varane’s presence alongside Maguire may encourage Solskjaer to be braver with his 4-2-3-1 system, deploying just a single midfield pivot and unleashing Paul Pogba to play higher up the field. Having Pogba’s compatriot in the United side will almost certainly help to appease Pogba’s mentality too, with Solskjaer still keen to retain Pogba’s services long-term.