Raphael Varane’s importance to Man Utd as defender prepares to return to side

The France international is set to be available for Saturday’s visit of Tottenham after illness.

Manchester United will be happy to welcome back Raphael Varane (Martin Rickett/PA)

By Tom White and Ben Mayhew, PA

Raphael Varane is set to make a welcome return on Saturday for a Manchester United team who have conceded twice as often in his absence.

Having missed the 4-1 derby defeat to Manchester City following a positive coronavirus test, the France international has been back in training this week and is in line to be available against Tottenham.

Here, the PA news agency looks at United’s defensive record and Varane’s influence.

Case against the defence

Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes, left, and Harry Maguire, right, look dejected after conceding against Burnley (Martin Rickett/PA)

United’s backline has come under scrutiny throughout this season, with 38 goals conceded in the league and 10 games still remaining.

On 21 occasions they have gone a full Premier League season without reaching that mark, including 10 years running from 2002-03 to 2011-12 – while even in the 42-game seasons in the rebranded competition’s first three years they conceded 31, 38 and 28.

Their average of 1.36 goals conceded per league game has them on course to concede over 50 for only the second time in a Premier League season – 51.6, so rounding up to 52 and coming in just short of 2018-19’s nadir of 54.

Sorely missed

Varane missed the heavy defeats to City, Watford, Liverpool and Leicester and across all competitions this season, United have conceded almost twice as many goals without him on the field.

In the 1,877 minutes Varane has played, including stoppage time, in all competitions United have conceded only 17 goals, equating to 0.82 per 90 minutes. That compares to 1.60 per 90 when he is absent, with 33 in 1,855 minutes.

The former Real Madrid centre-back has been present for only five of their nine clean sheets but of the 27 times they have conceded zero or one goal, he has featured in 18 of those games.

Strength of opposition is one mitigating factor. Varane has played in only one out of six meetings with United’s fellow members of the Premier League’s ‘big six’- against Spurs in October – and also missed games against West Ham, Atalanta and Villarreal.

Nevertheless, Varane’s influence is clear and captain Harry Maguire has come in for particular criticism this season while Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones have been unable to shore up a troublesome defence – the latter pair are without a clean sheet in nine combined appearances.

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