Victor Lindelöf and Lisandro Martínez lined up together to start Manchester United’s away fixture against Everton tonight.
Varane had to start on the bench today after suffering a minor niggly injury against Manchester City.
His absence – and thus importance – was felt today.
Diogo Dalot began the match playing as an inverted full back when United held possession.
Dalot was even positioned as a makeshift extra number ten when the Reds attacked Everton’s final third at the beginning of the match – somewhat in similar fashion to how United’s ‘noisy neighbours’ field João Cancelo.
With a lack of presence, physicality, and leadership behind him in the shape of Varane, Dalot was left somewhat exposed on occasion in the first half. Loitering to the right of the centre of the park, Dalot misplaced a couple of passes and left some passes threateningly close to opposition players.
Having started the season in fine form – so fine that Barcelona have shortlisted the Portuguese – it could be (rather abstractly) assumed that Dalot missed the aura and confidence which Varane instils upon the back four.
Ten Hag recognised Dalot’s frailties when positioned in the midfield and quickly pinned him back to solely fulfil the right back position at around the 35-minute mark.
The 23-year-old then went on to impress in the match in Ten Hag’s adapted system, scoring a 100% tackling and aerial success rate.
Although Dalot continued to roam slightly into central areas on occasion, his lack of gusto in comparison to previous matches (or even in comparison to the start of this Everton fixture) was visible.
As an experienced world-class right-sided centre back, Varane can be viewed as a cornerstone in making Dalot comfortable and helping to kick-start the right-back’s good form.
After all, Dalot never shone brightly playing alongside Lindelöf last season.
It may be unjust to sound slightly hostile toward Lindelöf who played soundly tonight, but the overarching effects when missing the towering defensive kingpin of Varane must be highlighted.
For Ten Hag’s favoured possession-based style of play to function successfully, the midfield must be overrun with United players.
The application of confident, comfortable, and consistent inverted fullbacks has to therefore be expected to flourish.
What’s more is that Martínez’s usual aggressive attacking sprouts seemed rather nullified tonight.
Whether that is the missing trust of having Varane behind him or whether it is due to other factors is unclear. But in not playing alongside the positional expert Varane, Martínez must have felt himself in a somewhat unsafe and uncomfortable defensive construct.
Varane’s stature, experience, world-class quality, and footballing intelligence must be seen as crucial ingredients for Ten Hag’s desired defensive organisation to be implemented profitably.