Will Raphael Varane make Manchester United’s defence the best among the Big Six? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer FINALLY has a star defensive partner for Harry Maguire, and here’s how they now compare with City, Chelsea and Co
- Man United are shoring up their defence with the signing of Raphael Varane
- REPORT: Red Devils confirm the signing of decorated French defender for £42m
- Varane’s arrival has left fans excited at the club’s silverware prospects
- The Frenchman’s addition makes United’s defence one of the strongest
- But Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool all look very strong at the back
- Arsenal and Tottenham both look a little more solid with their new additions
The outlook is certainly looking rosier for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now.
The Manchester United boss has long been hampered by ineffectiveness on the board’s part when it comes to transfers, with the club blighted by missed opportunities in years gone by.
But now the Norwegian can have no qualms about the club’s business this summer. Long-term target Jadon Sancho has finally signed for £73million while the club announced an agreement has been reached to sign Raphael Varane from Real Madrid in a £42m deal.
Man United have agreed a £42m deal in principle to sign Raphael Varane from Real Madrid
United have been in the market for a partner for Harry Maguire (right) and Varane fits the bill
Sancho’s arrival bolsters United’s star-studded attack, but it is Varane’s impending switch that has seen expectations among supporters soar, with United’s defensive strength finally appearing to match their swashbuckling frontline.
Varane – a four-time Champions League winner and three-time LaLiga champion – adds much-needed experience to United’s defence and a stable partner for £80m centre-half Harry Maguire.
So, with the Frenchman set to arrive at Old Trafford, how strong does United’s back line (including goalkeeper) look compared to their Big Six rivals heading towards the start of the new season?
Varane’s arrival gives Ole Gunnar Solskjaer one of the strongest defence in the Premier League. So, how do United’s Big Six rivals compare?
Back five: David de Gea (GK), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (RB), Raphael Varane (CB), Harry Maguire (CB), Luke Shaw (LB)
Total cost: £219.8m
It is no secret that Manchester United’s defence has been Solskjaer’s biggest weakness during his two-and-a-half-year reign at Old Trafford.
United conceded the most goals of all the top four sides last season (44), with Spurs the only Big Six side to concede more (45) across 38 league games in 2020-21.
Put simply, the Red Devils have been prone to calamity at the back. They shipped six at home to Tottenham last September while Maguire and Victor Lindelof have been shown to be a vulnerable defensive partnership having been exposed on a number of occasions.
Manchester United’s defence has been their undoing, with multiple errors proving costly
The starting back four picks itself, but Solskjaer remains undecided on his No 1 goalkeeper
Yet Varane should help remove errors from Maguire. The £80m man showed his class in the Euros, where he formed a strong connection with City defender John Stones and put in assured performances as England suffered final heartbreak.
Luke Shaw is hitting peak form at left back, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka has proven himself as the best defensive full back in the league. The back four picks itself, although there remains uncertainty in goal with Solskjaer undecided as to whether David de Gea or Dean Henderson should be No 1.
On the whole, though, United have one of the very best defences in the top flight, on paper at least.
Back five: Ederson (GK), Kyle Walker (RB), John Stones (CB), Ruben Dias (CB), Joao Cancelo (LB)
Total cost: 228.6m
Pep Guardiola knows how one quality signing can completely transform your fortunes.
When Leicester City hammered five past City on 27 September last year, Guardiola’s side looked some distance from mounting a serious challenge for the Premier League title.
The arrival of Ruben Dias (left) transformed City and defensive partner John Stones (right)
Kyle Walker’s (left) pace gets City out of trouble on the counter while Joao Cancelo is versatile
Just hours after that chastening defeat, City completed the £65m signing of Ruben Dias from Benfica, and Guardiola’s leaky back five soon became a thing of the past.
Dias’s arrival brought about a renaissance in John Stones. The £47.5m man was long staring into the abyss, but he struck up a formidable partnership with his Portuguese team-mate, culminating in the best defensive record in the league (32 goals conceded).
Kyle Walker’s speed at right back allows City to play a high line, while Joao Cancelo’s tactical versatility allows Guardiola to shift his pieces throughout a game, offering conundrums for his rivals. Ederson’s footwork is equally as impressive as his shot stopping, an assured presence between the sticks.
City have thrown plenty of money at their defence, but have finally found the right combination.
Pep Guardiola has thrown enough money at it and has the winning defensive combination
Back five: Alisson Becker (GK), Trent Alexander-Arnold (RB), Virgil van Dijk (CB), Ibrahima Konate (CB), Andy Robertson (LB)
Total cost: £184m
Despite lurching from defensive crisis to defensive crisis last season, Jurgen Klopp’s side conceded fewer goals (42) than United (44) as the Reds salvaged a third-place finish after appearing at risk of missing out on the top four.
Fabinho revealed this week that Virgil van Dijk is Klopp’s favourite player and the German cut a bereft figure for the duration of the last campaign, with his defensive titan absent after suffering a brutal knee injury.
Liverpool have sorely missed defensive titan Virgil van Dijk owing to his significant knee injury
Liverpool’s flying full backs add dynamism and verve to allow Jurgen Klopp to play a high line
Make no mistake, when Van Dijk is fit and available, Liverpool are a completely different side defensively than that which appeared all at sea on occasion last season.
Van Dijk struck up a strong partnership with Joe Gomez during their title-winning campaign, but the Dutchman is just as likely to play alongside Ibrahima Konate this campaign, with the Frenchman arriving for £36m this summer.
Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have the dynamism to bomb up and down the flanks, affording Klopp’s high line protection when counter attacked.
Alisson Becker made uncharacteristic errors last season as the Brazilian battled his own personal troubles, but the £65m shot stopper is undoubtedly one of the best keepers in the league.
Alisson Becker had a ropey 20-21 season but is an assured presence between the sticks
Back six: Mendy (GK), Reece James (RWB), Cesar Azpilicueta (CB), Thiago Silva (CB), Antonio Rudiger (CB), Ben Chilwell (LWB)
Total cost: £103m
While big-money signings certainly help strengthen a defence, Thomas Tuchel has demonstrated that good old-fashioned coaching does the trick, too.
The German inherited a Chelsea side with little defensive confidence, with Frank Lampard’s side conceding three goals to Southampton, Arsenal and City before he was dismissed in the New Year.
Chelsea have not spent big on their starting defence but Thomas Tuchel has drilled them well
Reece James (left) and Ben Chilwell offer pace on the flanks to help cover for Thiago Silva
Helped by the experience of Thiago Silva, with whom he worked at PSG, Tuchel successfully shored up his defence and barring a shock 5-2 defeat to West Brom, Chelsea showed adeptness to defend resolutely with a four or five man defensive line.
Chelsea’s defence formed the bedrock of their Champions League charge, resulting in glory in Porto in May. Antonio Rudiger has come in from the cold to thrive, as has Cesar Azpilicueta when called upon in a back five. Eduoard Mendy is a welcome return to stability in goal after Kepa Arrizabalaga’s howlers. English wing backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell are a real attacking threat too.
With the club closing in on a move for Sevilla star Jules Kounde, Chelsea’s defence could become all the stronger come August 14.
Back five: Hugo Lloris (GK), Serge Aurier (RB), Eric Dier (CB), Cristian Romero (CB), Sergio Reguilon (LB)
Total cost: £112m
Statistically and on paper the weakest defence of the Big Six sides, Nuno Espirito Santo has plenty of work on his hands to make Spurs a defensive force.
Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is the standout name of Tottenham’s back five. The World Cup winner has emerged as one of the best stoppers in world football during his time in north London, yet under-par displays last season and some notable howlers have seen questions raised of the Frenchman, particularly with Pierluigi Gollini signing from Atalanta.
Nuno Espirito Santo has a big job on his hands to organise Tottenham’s leaky defence
The new £42m arrival of Cristian Romero is a solid bit of business and is an instant starter
Serge Aurier has repeatedly failed to convince at right back, yet remains Spurs’ best choice with Matt Doherty failing to deliver following his £15m arrival from Wolves, while Eric Dier has not convinced at centre back after being dropped back from midfield by Jose Mourinho.
The new £42m arrival of Cristian Romero is a solid bit of business and instantly becomes a starter for Spurs.
Sergio Reguilon has offered lots of promise, but there remains plenty to come from the £30m man.
Back five: Bernd Leno (GK), Hector Bellerin (RB), Ben White (CB), Gabriel (CB), Kieran Tierney (LB)
Total cost: £108.5m
Arsenal have a reputation for being the makers of their own downfall, with Mikel Arteta’s side prone to calamity at the back throughout the Spaniard’s tenure.
Yet the Gunners boasted the third-best defensive record in the league last season, conceding 39 goals in 2020-21. That figure speaks to Arsenal’s bluntness in front of goal, but Arteta will be fully aware that there is still room for improvement at the back. Particularly as more and more footage emerges of pre-season defensive calamities leading to goals conceded.
Surprisingly, Arsenal boasted the third best defensive record in the league last season
Arsenal were the makers of their own downfall thanks to calamitous errors at the wrong time
Bernd Leno was backed by Arteta as his No 1 keeper, and subsequently let Emi Martinez join Aston Villa. However, the German has been erratic between the sticks, with his crazy decision to charge out of his penalty area against Wolves resulting in the Gunners being reduced to nine men on that torrid night at Molineux in February.
Hector Bellerin has failed to iron out inconsistencies at right back while Rob Holding has often appeared a deer in headlights.
Like Maguire, Gabriel has shown his quality as a defender and leader, but is in need of a suitable partner next to him. With David Luiz having left the club and Ben White joining in a £50m deal, the Brazilian will be glad to have an assured team-mate by his side.
Ben White completed his £50million move to the Emirates from Brighton in July
Kieran Tierney has been head and shoulders above his defensive team-mates, with the Scottish left back – when fit – an assured presence going both forward and back for the Gunners. With every passing game does his £25m fee from Celtic look more of a bargain.
Should the Gunners land White and a new goalkeeper – with moves for Sam Johnstone and Aaron Ramsdale mooted – and cut out the defensive lapses, they could continue their decent record this season.
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