Manchester United’s acquisition of Raphael Varane has potentially gotten to the point where it can perhaps be viewed as a foregone conclusion.
The Frenchman would bring a lot of defensive acumen to the Theatre of Dreams, which in turn means that Ole Gunnar Solskjær potentially has a lot of options with which to work with at the back.
Here is how United could lineup with Varane in the backline.
1. Maguire and Varane in a 4-3-3
This is the formation that would best incorporate Solskjær’s alleged wish to play more attacking football in the season ahead. As such, Maguire and Varane would be the solid defensive pairing in a more traditional backline.
Essentially, this setup will see the defenders utilize a more conservative defensive ethos to set up a solid foundation at the back. While Maguire’s ball-carrying ability may not have much scope in this set-up, it will ensure that both Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba will be able to play in the same midfield without fretting about defensive duties.
However, this style will also see the breakup of the now reliable Fred-Scott McTominay midfield pivot, albeit for the incorporation of a more offensive approach.
2. 4-2-3-1 With Freedom to Maguire
This is the set-up that sticks with McTominay and Fred in their midfield pivot, thereby ensuring apt defensive cover, albeit at the cost of any attacking role they may fulfil.
To compensate, this formation will see Maguire go forward with his trusty ball-carrying ability and create a threat in that manner. In the Euros, it was this aspect of Maguire’s style that created much-needed stability and added to the creative prospects of the English side.
While such a ploy would be used to great woe in the past given that Victor Lindelof alone was not always adept at handling the ensuing defensive pressure, in Varane’s experienced feet such a tactic seems to have a security lock.
Moreover, this is the style Solskjær could look to play in European games where the goal would be to play tactical football and not always be fire-brand.
3. Maguire Varane Lindelof Back Three
A back-three has always been used sparingly and to mixed results at Old Trafford. The defensive experiments with the set-up as done by Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho may even leave a foul set of memories for some supporters.
However, if Varane is purchased, Solskjær will be uniquely positioned to have three defenders who can all fulfil the role of ball-carrying centre-backs thereby dictating and creating the plays from the back all whilst keeping a strong defensive base.
Moreover, this setup will also make the best use of a midfield bereft of a specialist holding midfield purchase in the summer transfer window. Thus, Pogba and Fred will occupy the midfield roles in a 3-4-1-2 with Fernandes fulfilling the duty of the all-important attacking midfielder.
Likewise, such a formation would make the best use of Luke Shaw’s abilities as a wing-back, which was seen to great success for Gareth Southgate’s side last month. Moreover, the versatility of flank options available to Solskjær would likewise see him experiment on the other wing as well while also rotating his forward options in the front-two.
All in all, there is no single formation or starting eleven that Solskjær ought to rely on if he is to make the best out of his players whilst realistically targeting silverware. Changing the above styles across tournaments and even based on winning or losing positions will make all the difference in the long run.