A crucial statistic has emerged on Twitter showing that Raphael Varane’s arrival at Manchester United has had a key impact on the team’s tactics.
The classy Frenchman joined United from Real Madrid this summer in a €40 million deal and has played the last two Premier League matches alongside Harry Maguire in the heart of the Reds’ defence.
One of the criticisms of last season’s first choice centre-back pairing, Maguire and Victor Lindelof, was that a lack of pace and ability on the ball meant that United had to keep a relatively deep back line.
This, in turn, meant that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer felt the need to deploy two holding midfielders – the so-called ‘double pivot’ – forcing his hand into choosing a 4-2-3-1 formation for the vast majority of games.
However, Sky Sports (via @UtdDistrict) shows that United now start their attacks higher up the pitch than anyone else in the Premier League, which is almost certainly a direct result of Varane’s presence.
— UtdDistrict (@UtdDistrict) September 18, 2021
United’s ‘start distance’ – reported to be ‘how far upfield a team starts open play sequences’ has improved from a lowest 40.6m in 2018/19 to 45.4m this term.
This ranks them first, an improvement of 12 places compared to that low point and six places compared to last season.
Their best other season was 2019/20, when they were fifth.
The position appears connected to the number of goals conceded, with 2018/19 seeing United let in 54 goals versus only 36 in the season when they started highest up the pitch, 2019/20.
There was much speculation at the start of the season that Solskjaer was set to change to a 4-3-3 formation now that Varane has arrived, but so far that formation change has not materialised.
United have played all five of their matches so far this season with the tried and trusted 4-2-3-1.
Whether this will change when Scott McTominay returns and/or after Varane has become more established in the side remains to be seen.