Raphael Varane believes he is fulfilling his destiny after moving to Manchester United from Real Madrid.

The centre-back won three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns in Spain's capital, while triumphing at the 2018 World Cup with France.

Varane, who joined Madrid in 2011 from Lens, completed a move to United in a deal worth a reported £42.7million (€50m) in August.

However, in an interview with Sky Sports, the France international revealed he almost arrived at Old Trafford 10 years prior as former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson travelled to his Lille home to tout the then 18-year-old's services.

"It was a special moment for me and my family," Varane said. "It's amazing to meet a person like him [Alex Ferguson] at 18.

"You know, after that, it's your destiny. Ten years in Madrid and now I'm here.

"This is a new challenge for me. A different competition, a different mentality, a different atmosphere. It's all new for me but I've enjoyed every day so far.

"It's a big challenge to get Manchester United back to the top but I feel people want to win, people want to do great things with this club, and that's a big motivation for me."

 

In the absence of Sergio Ramos last term, Varane shone for Los Blancos, who he ranked second among defenders for both duels won (110) and interceptions (36) in LaLiga.

United's defensive acquisition dominated aerially as well, winning 73 aerial duels – more than double the tallies of his defensive colleagues.

But despite his success at Madrid, he remained on the undercard as he was surrounded by big names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, who he has reunited with in Manchester.

"I don't play football for this focus [the headlines]," Varane continued. "I just want to help the team and do my best.

"I want to improve and be who I am on the pitch. That's my objective and my mentality.

"Playing with this type of player [Cristiano Ronaldo], you improve every day. If he is still playing to such a high level at his age, it's because his work is amazing. I'm very happy to play with him.

"I think he is the best example in the world in terms of work ethic and winning mentality."

Paul Pogba anticipates the level of quality and expectation at Manchester United will increase after Cristiano Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford.

Ronaldo's sensational return came as a shock towards the end of the transfer window, with United's neighbours Manchester City having appeared favourites to sign the Portugal captain.

The 36-year-old is in line for a second United debut on Saturday when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side face Newcastle United - the team Ronaldo netted his only Premier League hat-trick against during his first stint at the club.

And Pogba is relishing the prospect of potentially playing with the five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who became the leading goalscorer in men's international football when he netted a double in Portugal's 2-1 win over the Republic of Ireland last week.

"It's always a pleasure to play with the best, it’s a plus for the players to be able to train with a great player," Pogba told Telefoot.

"He's going to raise the level of the team."

Ronaldo spent six years at Old Trafford between 2003 and 2009, scoring 118 times in 292 appearances as he collected three Premier League titles and a Champions League crown before joining Real Madrid.

 

It is not just in attack that United have improved, though, as Raphael Varane provides Solskjaer's defence with a World Cup-winning centre-back.

At 28, Varane is in the prime of his career. He joined from Madrid in July, with the move officially completed on August 14, making his debut in the 1-0 victory over Wolves, registering the assist for Mason Greenwood's winner.

During his time in Madrid, Varane won LaLiga three times and triumphed in the Champions League four times, while also winning the 2018 World Cup with France.

Pogba, too, was a part of the 2018 success in Russia, and he knows all about the qualities Varane brings to the table.

"Raph's [Raphael Varane] arrival is a positive for the club, we have a great relationship, we've known each other for a while," Pogba continued.

"I'm happy that he's with us at Manchester [United] to bring his experience and quality to the table."

Varane put in an accomplished performance in his United bow, making a team-high five clearances, successfully completing one tackle and winning four of the eight duels he competed for.

The transfer window does not close. It slams shut, and on Tuesday, it slammed shut with a flurry of late activity.

LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid were heavily involved, with Antoine Griezmann re-joining the club on loan from Barcelona while Saul Niguez left for Chelsea.

It marked the end of a difficult window for Barca, who of course lost Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain, who rounded off a stellar three months by not only keeping Kylian Mbappe, but also adding promising left-back Nuno Mendes.

Earlier in the day, Cristiano Ronaldo's sensational return to Manchester United had been confirmed, perhaps putting the Red Devils right in the mix for the Premier League title, while Chelsea - buoyed by Romelu Lukaku's comeback - cannot be ignored.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the winners, and losers, of what has been a chaotic transfer window.

 

THE WINNERS

Paris Saint-Germain

Let's start with the obvious. Achraf Hakimi, Mendes, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georgino Wijnaldum and, of course Messi. Oh, and PSG kept hold of Mbappe, too, rebuffing three bids - the final one reportedly worth €200m - from Real Madrid for the 22-year-old superstar who is out of contract next year. Speaking of out of contract players, Ramos, Donnarumma, Wijnaldum and Messi were all brought in for combined fees of €0, although their wages are sure to be astronomical even by PSG's standards. In Mbappe, Neymar and Messi, PSG have, on paper, what could be the most feared attacking trident of the modern era, not to mention Angel Di Maria in reserve. Mauricio Pochettino's side look suspect defensively but have Ramos to come in, while Donnarumma will compete with Keylor Navas. If they do not win the Champions League this season, will they ever manage it?

Manchester United

It remains to be seen whether United really needed to go out and buy Ronaldo, but the temptation – and reportedly, the requirement to get one over on noisy neighbours Manchester City – was just too much. However, there is no doubting Ronaldo brings a focal point you could argue was still missing from the Red Devils' attack, though with so much quality at his disposal the pressure will be on Ole Gunnar Solskjer to deliver a trophy. United spent big on Jadon Sancho and also brought in a world class defender in Raphael Varane. A title tilt might not be expected just yet, but silverware in some form must be the goal now. After fan protests during the botched Super League proposals earlier this year, the Glazer family seem to have gone all out to prove they want success.

Chelsea

When it comes to Premier League title contenders, Chelsea have surely put themselves well in the running. The European Champions have brought in two major additions in the form of Lukaku and Saul, both players with a wealth of experience at the highest level, and both on the back of title-winning campaigns last season. The Blues did sell Tammy Abraham, Olivier Giroud and Kurt Zouma, among others, but the strength in depth Thomas Tuchel has to play with is remarkable. A deadline day move for Sevilla's Jules Kounde did not materialise, but Saul adds another fantastic option in midfield to go alongside N'Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and the in-form Jorginho.

Tottenham

For a long while, it looked as though Tottenham would be one of the big losers from this window. A prolonged managerial search eventually resulted in Nuno Espirito Santo's appointment, but the main saga was over Harry Kane's future. City reportedly made one bid, during Euro 2020, which was dismissed out of hand. The champions never did return with an improved offer, despite huge speculation, and Kane ultimately stayed put. Older players such as Joe Hart, Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and Moussa Sissoko were moved out, while Bryan Gil, Pierluigi Gollini, Cristian Romero and Emerson Royal – a deadline day arrival from Barca – arrived to fill the gaps. Serge Aurier's contract was terminated, while three wins from three means Spurs sat top of the league heading into the international break.

Atletico Madrid

While Saul was a deadline day exit, Atleti have given themselves a great chance of retaining their LaLiga title. With rivals Madrid failing to land Mbappe, as well as losing two of their stalwarts, and Barca seemingly in disarray, there has never been a better opportunity for Diego Simeone's team to really assert themselves as top dogs in Spain. Griezmann's arrival, on a season-long loan with the option for either club to extend the switch, has bolstered a fearsome attack that already included Luis Suarez, Angel Correa, new signing Matheus Cunha and Joao Felix - though the latter may now find chances to play in his preferred position, nominally off the front man, even harder to come by. Saul was struggling to nail down a regular spot in the first team, but Atleti showed greater desire to keep Kieran Trippier, who stayed despite interest from the Premier League. Rodrigo de Paul also arrived from Udinese.

 

THE LOSERS

Barcelona

The chickens have finally come home to roost at Camp Nou. Years of mismanagement, and the impact of COVID-19, has left the club's finances in a shambolic state. Barca had agreed to a new deal with Messi only to then announce the deal could not be completed due to "financial and structural obstacles". Barca ended the window by selling promising youngster Ilaix Moriba to RB Leipzig and shipping off Emerson to Spurs. Then, late on Tuesday, Griezmann, who cost Barca €120m in 2019, was sent back to Atleti. Luuk de Jong, a target man Ronald Koeman worked with during his stint as the Netherlands' coach, was drafted in from Sevilla as a replacement. Memphis Depay seems ready to step up after his arrival from Lyon, while Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero also came in on free transfers, though Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets were among the players who took pay cuts in order for Barca to register their latest acquisitions.

Inter

Serie A champions Inter were dealt a blow when, just after ending their 11-year trophy drought, coach Antonio Conte left the club. Financial difficulties meant the Nerrazurri had to cash in on prized assets, and Hakimi and subsequently Lukaku followed Conte out of the door. Lautaro Martinez did stay, however, with Inter reinvesting some of the funds to sign Netherlands right-back Denzel Dumfries, Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Lazio forward Juan Correa. Hakan Calhanoglu, meanwhile, joined from rivals Milan on loan, though it is difficult to see that being enough for Inter to challenge on all fronts this season.

 

Juventus

While Inter were weakened, it has to be said that Juventus – surely their closest rivals in the Scudetto hunt – also had a disappointing window. Like many European clubs, they have been hit hard by COVID-19, though appeared well set to challenge again after reappointing Massimiliano Allegri. However, Ronaldo decided he wanted out late in the window, and Juve did not stand in his way. An initial fee of £12.86m (€15m), payable over five years, was agreed with United, and Ronaldo left just like that. Moise Kean returned from Everton on a two-year loan with an obligation to buy as a replacement, while Manuel Locatelli was their other major acquisition and Weston McKennie's move from Schalke was made permanent. Based on the performance in Sunday's defeat to Empoli, however, Juve are far from the force they were during Allegri's last spell in charge.

Real Madrid

For a time last week, it really did look as though Madrid were going to end the window in sensational fashion. Three bids were lodged for Mbappe, but PSG did not buckle. Madrid did move for another French youngster – Edouardo Camavinga, who joined from Rennes on Tuesday – but overall it must be considered a poor window. Los Blancos allowed Ramos to leave on a free and sold long-time defensive partner Varane - just the eight Champions League winners' medals between them. Martin Odegaard was deemed surplus to requirements by Carlo Ancelotti and sold to Arsenal, though no buyers were found for fringe players Luka Jovic or Dani Ceballos. David Alaba's arrival on a free transfer from Bayern Munich at least softened the blow of Ramos' departure, and Mbappe may well be on board in 2022.

Manchester City

City broke the British transfer record to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa, who in turn have made smart acquisitions such as Danny Ings, Leon Bailey and Emiliano Buendia. While another attacking midfielder was more of a luxury than a necessity, City did miss out on Kane and then seemingly saw Ronaldo snatched from under their noses by United, though the club have claimed it is they who pulled out of the deal. Pep Guardiola went into the window wanting an out-and-out number nine following Aguero's departure, but for now the Premier League champions will have to carry on with makeshift forwards, it seems. Not that it did them much harm in 5-0 routs of Norwich City and Arsenal last month. Meanwhile, wantaway playmaker Bernardo Silva is still at the club, though he will remain a first-team regular.

Liverpool 

Unlike their league rivals, Liverpool never seemed focused on spending big. The Reds instead turned their attention to tying down the futures of key players, with Jordan Henderson, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson, Fabinho and Andrew Robertson signing new deals. Ibrahima Konate came in from RB Leipzig to boost the defence – a clear area of weakness last season during an injury crisis – though Jurgen Klopp's squad does seem weaker. They have started the season well, but it remains to be seen how they cope without Wijnaldum and even Xherdan Shaqiri should injuries trouble them again.

Raphael Varane was able to reflect on a winning debut for Manchester United, as he revelled in the intensity of the Premier League.

Signed from Real Madrid in the off-season, World Cup-winning defender Varane made his debut in United's 1-0 win over Wolves on Sunday.

Partnering Harry Maguire at the back, Varane made a team-high five clearances and provided the assist for Mason Greenwood's fortuitous late winner.

"A good feeling! I was very, very happy to be here and to help the team get this victory," the 28-year-old told United media.

"The feeling is absolutely amazing. The Premier League is very intense. The game, it's very fast. I came here for that feeling."

Asked if the major difference between his experiences in Spain and England was the intensity or the atmosphere, Varane replied: "Both. The atmosphere is fantastic, and the game is very fast.

"You have a lot of action during the game. You have to be focused and very concentrated because it never stops. It's attack, attack, counter-attack and it's very fast."

Varane is soon to be joined at United by former Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, who is to return to Old Trafford after leaving 12 years ago.

United agreed a deal with Juventus on Friday for the five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who underwent a medical in Portugal this weekend and is expected to finalise his move before Tuesday's deadline.

"I am very happy. He's a legend and all players can learn when you play with him," Varane said of Ronaldo.

"It's a great help for all players, for all young players, and of course he never stops scoring goals, so he will help the team."

Manchester United have completed the signing of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid.

United confirmed at the end of July that they had reached an agreement to bring France centre-back Varane to Old Trafford.

However, Varane had to go through a quarantine period upon his arrival in the United Kingdom due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

The France international was finally introduced to the Old Trafford fans minutes before kick-off in their Premier League opener with Leeds United on Saturday.

Varane, who had less than a year remaining on his Madrid deal, has now sealed his move to the Red Devils and will play in the Premier League for the first time.

United are reported to have paid a fee of £42.7million (€50m) to secure the services of the 28-year-old on a four-year deal.

Having also brought in Jadon Sancho, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has now added one of the world's best defenders.

Varane, who moved to Madrid in 2011 from Lens, has a wealth of experience, winning three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns as he has racked up over 350 appearances in the Spanish capital.

In the absence of Sergio Ramos for much of last season, Varane ranked second among Madrid defenders in terms of both duels won (110) and interceptions (36) in LaLiga.

It was Varane's aerial presence that really shone through at the back and his 73 successful aerial duels were more than double the tallies of his defensive colleagues.

Indeed, out of all defenders in LaLiga to contest 20 or more aerial duels, Varane's success rate of 76 per cent was the best during the 2020-21 campaign.

That ability in the air will boost a United side lacking in that sense last term, despite Harry Maguire's expertise. Excluding penalties, only Leeds United (15) conceded more Premier League goals from set-pieces than United's 14.

 

Varane's vast experience even beyond his Madrid exploits should aid Solskjaer's side, too.

The defender has played 79 times for France, winning the World Cup in 2018 before playing in all four games at Euro 2020 on the way to Les Bleus' shock last-16 exit.

Varane was the only France defender who saw action and was not dribbled past by an opponent at the Euros, showing his talent on the ground as well as in the air.

With pace to get out of trouble, Varane appears an excellent foil for Maguire as United look to improve on last campaign's second-placed Premier League finish.

Chelsea have been in the market for a new striker and are closing in on their man.

The European champions had been linked with Borussia Dortmund's prolific Norway international Erling Haaland.

But have turned their attention to Inter striker Romelu Lukaku, with two bids reportedly rejected last week.

 

TOP STORY - LUKAKU TO COMPLETE CHELSEA MOVE

Lukaku will finalise his £97.5m (€115m) move from Inter to Chelsea after linking up with the Blues, reports Sky Sports.

The report claims the Belgium international flew into London on Wednesday evening, after a stop in Monte Carlo.

Lukaku had already undergone the first part of his medical and agreed in principle to the deal, with the paperwork being sorted with lawyers before he inks the five-year deal worth £200,000 (€236,000) per week.

 

ROUND-UP

- As the dominoes fall, Edin Dzeko is set to join Inter from Roma with a contract agreed until June 2023 according to Fabrizio Romano.

- Sky Sports reports that Real Madrid are monitoring Chelsea's Germany defender Antonio Rudiger . Madrid lost centre-backs Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane this off-season.

- Roma head coach Jose Mourinho will speak with Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham on Thursday to try to convince him to join the Eternal City club. According to The Mirror. Chelsea and Roma have agreed terms on a £34m (€40m) deal.

- Sky in Italy claims Inter have tabled a €12m bid for PSV Eindhoven right-back Denzel Dumfries, although the Dutch club reportedly want €14m for the Netherlands international.

- Inter are also interested in Napoli skipper Lorenzo Insigne, according to Sky in Italy. The Serie A champions are trying to see if they can sign the Italy international, whose contract expires next year, for €25m.

- Arsenal are in advanced talks with Sheffield United to sign goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, according to Football London.

- Sunsport reports Manchester United are finally expected to unveil Varane as a new signing from Real Madrid on Thursday.

Raphael Varane has posted a heartfelt goodbye to Real Madrid ahead of his transfer to Manchester United.

It was announced on Tuesday that the Red Devils had agreed a deal in principle to sign the France centre-back, who had a year left on his contract with LaLiga giants Madrid.

United are reported to be paying a fee of £42.7million (€50m) to secure the transfer, with the player set to travel to England this week, where he will undergo a period of isolation before completing a medical.

Varane visited Madrid's Valdebebas training ground on Friday for the final time before departing the club where he won four Champions Leagues and three LaLiga titles among a host of trophies following his arrival from Lens in 2011.

"These past few days have been charged with many emotions, feelings that I now want to share with all of you," he wrote on Instagram.

"After 10 incredible and wonderful years at Real Madrid, a club I will always carry in my heart, the day has come to say goodbye.

"Since I arrived in 2011, together we exceeded all expectations and achieved things I could never have dreamed of.

"I would like to thank all the coaches and all the people who work or have worked for the club for everything they have done for me.

"Many thanks also to all the Madridistas who always gave me a lot of affection and with their great demands pushed me to give my best and to fight for every success.

"I have had the honour of sharing a dressing room with the best players in the world. Countless victories I will never forget, especially 'La Decima'. I realise it's been a great privilege to have been able to experience such special moments.

"Finally, I want to thank all Spaniards and especially the city of Madrid, where my two children were born. This country will always be special to me.

"It's been an incredible journey in every way. I leave with the feeling of having given everything and I will not change a single thing in this story of ours.

"A new chapter begins..."

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised Manchester United's transfer business as he declared the Red Devils were in a "good position" ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

Jadon Sancho joined on Friday from Borussia Dortmund and with a deal agreed in principle for Raphael Varane from Real Madrid, Solskjaer hailed the work done to strengthen his squad this month.

United's manager, who signed a new contract until 2024 on Saturday, spoke after his side's 2-2 draw with Brentford in a pre-season friendly at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

"First of all the club shows ambition with one of the most exciting young players in world football, then one of the most respected centre-backs," Solskjaer said post-match.

"We have different ways of playing with Raphael. I can't wait to get him in, hopefully we can get that sorted as soon as.

"Of course, [we are] very happy that we've managed to get a deal with Real Madrid. [The] medical should hopefully be OK. He's a proven winner, a player we've followed for many years."

Varane has collected three LaLiga titles and four Champions League triumphs in a 10-year spell in Madrid, though with a year left on his contract he felt it was time to move on.

The France international also won the World Cup in 2018 before playing in all four games at Euro 2020, where he was the only France defender to not be dribbled past.

The signing of Varane is, as Solskjaer says, likely to go through soon and the former United forward is delighted to have done business early this transfer window.

"We've scrambled before towards the end of the window and now I have to say we're in a good position," he added before providing an update on Marcus Rashford's potential surgery and the return of his international stars.

"With Marcus, we'll probably make a decision in the next few days when we check him up again. What's best for him and best for the club has to be considered.

"I haven't got a Scooby Doo how they [the returning internationals] are fitness-wise. Everyone's due in Monday for training, that means three weeks since the last game. We'll see how they are, what fitness levels they are at."

The Red Devils have friendlies left against Preston North End and Everton before kicking off their Premier League campaign against Leeds United on August 14.

Manchester United have confirmed they have reached an agreement in principle with Real Madrid for defender Raphael Varane.

With only 12 months remaining on his Madrid contract, Varane has been allowed to join the Red Devils.

United are reported to be paying a fee of £42.7million (€50m) to secure the transfer, which is subject to a medical and terms being finalised with the player.

Having recently brought in Jadon Sancho, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is poised to add one of the world's best defenders as United outspend their major European rivals ahead of the new season.

Varane is expected to sign a four-year deal and Solskjaer, who has cited defensive frailties as a problem throughout his tenure, fills yet another key position.

Having moved to Madrid in 2011 from Lens, Varane has a wealth of experience, winning three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns as he has racked up over 350 appearances in the Spanish capital.

In the absence of Sergio Ramos for much of last season, Varane impressed again.

The centre-back ranked second among Madrid defenders in terms of both duels won (110) and interceptions (36) in LaLiga.

It was Varane's aerial presence that really shone through at the back and his 73 successful aerial duels were more than double the tallies of his defensive colleagues.

Indeed, out of all defenders in LaLiga to contest 20 or more aerial duels, Varane's success rate of 76 per cent was the best during the 2020-21 campaign.

That ability in the air will boost a United side lacking in that sense last term, despite Harry Maguire's expertise. Excluding penalties, only Leeds United (15) conceded more Premier League goals from set-pieces than United's 14.

 

Varane's vast experience even beyond his Madrid exploits should aid Solskjaer's side, too.

The defender has played 79 times for France, winning the World Cup in 2018 before playing in all four games at Euro 2020 on the way to Les Bleus' shock last-16 exit.

Varane was the only France defender who saw action and was not dribbled past by an opponent at the Euros, showing his talent on the ground as well as in the air.

With pace to get out of trouble, Varane appears an excellent foil for Maguire as United look to improve on last campaign's second-placed Premier League finish.

United finished 12 points behind rivals and champions Manchester City and will hope to have both Sancho and Varane available when they start their quest to bridge that gap against Leeds at Old Trafford on August 14.

Manchester United great Rio Ferdinand has expressed his admiration for Raphael Varane, labelling the Frenchman as a "genuine world-class centre-back" whose achievements speak for themselves.

The Real Madrid defender is understood to be days away from a move to Old Trafford for a reported fee of £42.7million (€50m) as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally finds a suitable partner for Harry Maguire.

United previously ticked another target off their transfer list when they announced the signing of Jadon Sancho, although Varane will provide much-needed experience at the other end of the pitch for the Red Devils.

And former United defender Ferdinand, who amassed 455 appearances and won six Premier League titles in Manchester, could not contain his excitement for Varane's potential arrival.

"When you watch him sometimes he almost purrs, he's got that pace, that poise," Ferdinand said on his self-titled 'Rio Ferdinand Presents FIVE' YouTube channel.

"We've signed a genuine world-class centre-back. His list of honours is ridiculous, it's as long as my arm."

Indeed, Varane does ooze class and experience, having won the World Cup in 2018 and collected three LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues with Madrid.

Despite playing all four games at Euro 2020, the France centre-back was the only one of Didier Deschamps' defenders to not get dribbled past, while he also led LaLiga defenders in terms of aerial success last season.

Though Varane's aerial duels were also more than double any of his defensive team-mates, he also ranked second in terms of both interceptions and duels won among the club's defenders in 2020-21.

 

Ferdinand, whose £30m move from Leeds United to Man Utd was a record fee for a defender in 2002, also found time to praise former colleague Solskjaer and the recruitment by United this transfer window.

"It's a great job by the [recruitment] people at Manchester United. United have been criticised in the past, and rightly so, for dilly-dallying in the market," the former centre-back added.

"This one they were assertive, they went for their man and they got him. No doubt in my mind, he would have said to Real Madrid 'I need it, I want it, I have to go'."

Having seen Sancho join the likes of Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Maguire, Ferdinand was adamant that Varane's transfer would be due to his own insistence to move onto a fresh challenge in England.

"What a signing. There's been talk in the transfer market since it opened up – it must have come from the player," Ferdinand continued.

"He must have wanted to leave, and be part of the new Man United way, the project that's going ahead.

"The talent they've got there, the ability to play alongside Maguire after he did so well at the Euros probably played a part. I just think he sees this as a better project than what he's got at Real Madrid now."

United get their Premier League campaign underway against Leeds on August 14 and Solskjaer will be hoping to be able to call upon both of his high-profile signings should the deal go through.

All indications are Raphael Varane is set to move on from Real Madrid. 

The France international appears locked in on one destination. 

Manchester United are said to be close to a deal for the defender. 

 

TOP STORY – UNITED CLOSE TO VARANE MOVE

Manchester United have been linked to Raphael Varane in transfer rumours for months. 

Now it appears the move could come to fruition, as Marca reports United and Real Madrid are close to a €50million (£42m) agreement. 

Though the Mirror reports some at the Premier League club are worried the 28-year-old is merely using them to get a better deal out of Madrid, Fabrizio Romano says United are "confident" a deal is close and that no other clubs are involved. 

 

ROUND-UP

– With his Arsenal contract set to expire next year, Alexandre Lacazette is in demand, and Calciomercato says Atletico Madrid are pondering a potential €15m offer. 

Erik Lamela is set to join Sevilla in a swap deal, with Tottenham getting Bryan Gil, Marca says, while Romano says Spurs will also get €25m in the deal and Gil will sign through 2026.  

Newcastle are eyeing Ross Barkley as a potential addition if they cannot pry Joe Willock away from Arsenal, says The Athletic, with a loan move for Leicester's Hamza Choudhury also a possibility.

West Ham could make a move for Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, says the Express. 

Ben White's £50m move from Brighton to Arsenal will be official next week, reports Romano. 

Paris Saint-Germain have had talks with Kalidou Koulibaly's agent about a move from Napoli, reports Corriere dello Sport. 

Roma have offered €15m for Barcelona's Clement Lenglet, says Sport. 

Manchester United certainly can't be accused of standing still this year. A day after sealing the signing of Jadon Sancho, they confirmed a new contract for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer until at least 2024.

But there's still plenty to press on with for Solskjaer and United. While the signing of Sancho addresses one area that has been a problem in recent years, it appears there are still two glaring weaknesses in the first-choice starting XI.

It would seem United have identified the man to take care of one of them, with Real Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane reportedly set to bolster their defensive options. In one sense it will have been a signing long in the making, given the club were supposedly close to buying him from Lens as a teenager only for Los Blancos to get the deal over the line in the end.

Although it took Varane a little time to truly establish himself at the Santiago Bernabeu, he's gone on to enjoy a hugely successful time in the Spanish capital, winning three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns, among a host of other trophies.

Below, Stats Perform delves into the Opta data to see how Varane might improve United and where else they could do with reinforcements.

 

Physical dominance is the key

There are some obvious strengths that Varane would bring to United at the back – chief among them is his pace, which they arguably don't have a great deal of at centre-back.

While Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire may not be considered painfully slow, neither boasts the same kind of speed as the Frenchman and that would undoubtedly be a considerable asset for United.

Recent reports have suggested Solskjaer wants to play more attack-minded football in 2021-22, and having a faster centre-back could be crucial in that sense.

In theory, it would allow United to play slightly higher up the pitch. While they didn't exactly defend deep in 2020-21, their average starting position of 42.3 metres from their own goal was deeper than six other teams – Varane's pace could potentially provide them with a little more security in a high line.

In terms of possession, there's not a great deal separating Varane and Lindelof, the man whose position is surely in doubt. The Sweden international averaged fractionally more successful passes (58.1 to 55.9) and accurate passes in the opposing half (17.81 to 17.77) per 90 minutes last season, but that could be a reflection of slightly differing styles of play implemented by the teams rather than ability.

Opta sequence data suggests they are similar as well. While Lindelof (14) may have been involved in four more goal-ending passing sequences, the expected goals (xG) value attached to Varane in those instances is actually higher (8.9 to 8.8), meaning the current United man's influence is likely being exaggerated by particularly good finishing from his team-mates.

Even their ball carrying tendencies aren't hugely different, though Lindelof does boast a greater average carry distance of 11.3m to 10.9m, while his average progress up the pitch of 5.7m is a minor improvement on the 5.4m posted by the Madrid man.

But it could be argued United don't need their right-sided centre-back to be forward-thinking all the time because that's one of Maguire's key strengths. If anything, having a dependable partner could allow for their captain to have even greater prominence going forward, as he may feel more relaxed about stepping up with better protection behind.

 

And that's where Varane could really shine as an upgrade on Lindelof. The Swede's effectiveness in physical duels has been routinely questioned since he joined from Benfica in 2017 – a prime example being when Mbaye Diagne bullied him as West Brom scored in their 1-1 draw with United in February.

While it's impossible to guarantee Varane wouldn't have also been dominated in that instance, he does have a better record in situations where physicality is important. In 2020-21, he won 2.4 aerial duels per game across all competitions compared to Lindelof's 1.8.

That equates to a 72.3 per cent success rate for Varane, as opposed to 59.4 for Lindelof. In fact, Maguire – the most dominant defender in that respect in the Premier League last season (100 duels or more) – only marginally edges the World Cup winner (72.9 per cent).

But when we broaden the comparison to encompass all duels, Varane comes out on top among all three of them (66.5 per cent). Maguire wins 63.8 per cent of those contests, whereas that drops to 53.1 per cent for Lindelof.

United fans have been crying out for a more physically dominant defender to partner Maguire, and in Varane they may have identified a centre-back to rival him in those stakes.

Is the Fred-McTominay axis necessary?

Centre-back certainly isn't the only area United fans would be eager to see an upgrade – there's little doubt they have room for growth in midfield, regardless of whether or not Paul Pogba leaves.

The Frenchman actually featured more from the left during the second half of 2020-21 and looked more comfortable out there with some creative freedom, rather than sitting behind Bruno Fernandes in the middle.

That meant Fred and Scott McTominay were, more often than not, the first-choice pairing at the base of the midfield.

Now, it must be said that both players have clearly improved significantly over the past couple of years and they do offer a lot to United in certain areas.

 

For instance, in the Premier League in 2020-21, Fred won possession more often than any other United player (228) and his 81 tackle attempts were only bettered by Aaron Wan-Bissaka (88). McTominay ranked fourth for tackles (51) and joint-second for fouls won (42), which speaks to his improved ability on the ball as well as a knack for relieving defensive pressure in transition.

But neither are particularly creative. Fred laid on 25 key passes with an expected assists (xA) value of 2.1, while McTominay created 17 chances that combined to an xA total of 0.7.

Of course, you can't expect every outfield player to offer creativity. In many cases a player's productivity – or lack of – is intrinsically linked to the role they're playing or system they're part of, and Fernandes has done a lot of the heavy lifting. But United are a side who generally have more of the ball than their opponents – do they need two 'destroyers'?

 

If Solskjaer is to implement a more forward-thinking setup in 2021-22, he would be wise to finally ditch the Fred-McTominay axis. More often than not, it comes across as extremely conservative.

 

But the caveat to that is Solskjaer's rather limited options. Donny van de Beek endured a pretty dreadful first season as he showed very little authority whenever he played, Pogba was more useful towards the left so his lack of work rate off the ball wasn't exposed, and Nemanja Matic just isn't athletic enough anymore even if he is still a talented ball-player.

Pressure now on Ole

Who's to say if another midfielder, Varane and Sancho will be enough to overthrow Manchester City while also holding off a Liverpool side who promise to be back with a vengeance and defending European champions Chelsea.

But such decisive addressing of the team's weak points should at least give Solskjaer the right tools to work with. It'll then be on him to prove conclusively he's the right man for the job, because further under-achieving with such a strong squad won't be tolerated for long, regardless of his new contract.

Jose Mourinho was sacked less than a year after signing his renewal in January 2018.

Following the conclusion of the European Championship and the Copa America, focus has switched back to club football as the 2021-22 campaign draws ever nearer in Europe's top leagues.

Most clubs are busy strengthening their squads ahead of the new season, while for others there is a need to raise funds as the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to be felt.

With six weeks of the window to go for teams in England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy, the futures of many top talents remain uncertain – not least in the case of Lionel Messi, who became a free agent on July 1.

But while Messi is widely expected to sign a new long-term deal with Barcelona, other global stars will remain in the headlines until a transfer is secured or the window shuts.

Stats Perform looks at some of the biggest names who could be on the move between now and the end of August.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)

Linked with: Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United

While Messi's future now seems certain to be with Barcelona beyond next month, fellow superstar Ronaldo's status is less clear after entering the final year of his Juventus deal.

The Bianconeri are supposedly weighing up whether to cash in on the five-time Ballon d'Or winner or risk losing him for free next year when his deal expires.

While Juve endured a disappointing 2020-21 that saw them miss out on the Scudetto for the first time in nine years, Ronaldo had another impressive season in front of goal.

He scored 29 goals in 33 league appearances to finish top of the scoring charts, becoming the first player to win the Golden Boot in Serie A, LaLiga and the Premier League.

 

Harry Kane (Tottenham)

Linked with: Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid

Kane has spent 17 years with Tottenham but admitted in May he feels at a "crossroads" in his career following another trophyless campaign last time out.

The England international, who scored four times in his country's run to the Euro 2020 final, is yet to discuss his future with recently-appointed boss Nuno Espirito Santo.

He finished as the Premier League's top scorer last season, making him the third player to win the Golden Boot on three occasions after Thierry Henry (four times) and Alan Shearer.

Kane also set up 14 goals to become only the second player in the Premier League era to top the charts for both goals and assists, the other being Andy Cole for Newcastle United in 1993-94.

 

Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

Linked with: Manchester City, Real Madrid, Chelsea

Alongside Kylian Mbappe, who Paris Saint-Germain will refuse to sell this window despite his delicate contract situation, Haaland is arguably football's hottest property.

The Norway international has been superb for Dortmund since arriving in January 2020, breaking a number of Bundesliga and Champions League goals records along the way.

That includes becoming both the quickest and youngest player to hit 20 goals in the Champions League, doing so in just 14 matches for Dortmund and former side Salzburg.

Last season alone, Haaland netted 27 times in 28 Bundesliga games. That included two or more goals on 11 occasions – only Gerd Muller (12 in 1971-72) has done so more times in a season.

 

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

Linked with: Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid

Having won it all during his time with Bayern, including seven successive Bundesliga crowns, could the time be right for Lewandowski to seek a new challenge elsewhere?

Recently-appointed Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann admitted last week teams are interested in signing the 32-year-old, but that should of course come as no surprise.

Lewandowski is coming off his finest campaign yet for the Bavarian giants, having scored 41 times in the Bundesliga in 2020-21 to break Bayern great Muller's record for goals in a single season that had stood for 49 years.

The Poland striker's 48 goals in all competitions last time out were the most scored by any player in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21, meanwhile, followed by Mbappe (42) and Haaland (41).

 

Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)

Linked with: Manchester United

With the signing of Jadon Sancho as good as wrapped up, Man Utd are rumoured to be closing in on a second big-money signing of the window in long-serving Madrid defender Varane.

The Frenchman has spent a decade at the Santiago Bernabeu, but it looks as though both the player and club are ready to cut ties with less than a year to run on his contract.

United are seeking a partner for Harry Maguire and Varane ticks plenty of boxes for what the Red Devils are after, not least in terms of his passing accuracy (89.58) and headed clearances (60) in 31 LaLiga games last term.

That compares to a passing accuracy of 89.82 for Victor Lindelof, 88.26 for Eric Bailly and 87.29 for Maguire in the Premier League last term. Maguire led the way with 86 headed clearances, meanwhile, some way in front of Lindelof's 40 in 29 games.

Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

Linked with: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Juventus

United have been linked with an array of top talent, though they could have a battle on their hands keeping hold of one of their own star men in Pogba.

Following a couple of years of speculation, the World Cup-winning midfielder is supposedly eager to head home to France with Paris Saint-Germain.

Pogba has undoubtedly struggled for consistency in his second spell with United, but showed exactly what he is capable of in his four appearances for France at Euro 2020.

He scored a stunning goal against Switzerland and set up another against Portugal, while his eight chances created was second only to Antoine Griezmann (10) among France players.

Eduardo Camavinga (Rennes)

Linked with: Real Madrid, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, Arsenal

A number of Europe's top clubs are on red alert after Rennes president Nicolas Holveck admitted this week that in-demand midfielder Camavinga may be sold this window if a new contract cannot be agreed.

Camavinga made his debut for boyhood club Rennes in April 2019 and has gone on to make 82 appearances in all competitions, with 67 of those outings coming in Ligue 1.

The 18-year-old leads the way in the French top flight for tackles attempted (226) and tackles won (138) since his debut, followed by Marseille's Valentin Rongier in both categories (194 and 125 respectively).

To further underline exactly why so many teams are keen on the youngster, he was one of only two current teenagers – along with Barcelona's Pedri (1,485) – to complete more than 1,000 passes in Europe's top five leagues last term with 1,418.

 

Manuel Locatelli (Sassuolo)

Linked with: Juventus, Arsenal

Euro 2020 acted as a shop window for a number of players, and not many of them saw their stock rise in such a way as Italy midfielder Locatelli.

The 23-year-old featured five times for the Azzurri in their successful European Championship campaign, including an appearance from the bench during extra time in the victory over England in the final.

He scored twice in the 3-0 group-stage win over Switzerland and had the second best goals-per-90-minutes ratio of any Italy player (0.66) after Matteo Pessina, who scored twice in four games (0.95).

Locatelli also won more tackles per 90 minutes (2.32) at the Euros than any other Italy player, followed by Marco Verratti (2.02) and Federico Bernardeschi (1.42).

Arsenal have already made a €40million (£35m) bid, but Juventus are considered the favourites to land the Milan youth product.

David Alaba hopes to form a defensive alliance with Raphael Varane at Real Madrid, despite speculation linking the France international with Manchester United.

Alaba joined Madrid on a free transfer following a decorated spell with Bayern Munich, during which time he won an incredible 27 trophies.

The Austria international was presented to the media in the Spanish capital on Wednesday, where it was revealed he would inherit the number four shirt from Sergio Ramos, who has joined Paris Saint-Germain following a career-defining association with Los Blancos.

That in itself was a point of intrigue, but Alaba also addressed Varane – who he hopes does not follow the veteran Spain centre-back out of the Santiago Bernabeu exit door.

"I would have loved to play with Ramos, of course," he told reporters. "He is a leader, it would have been a pleasure.

"Varane, of course I would like to play with him. He is a player who has played excellent football.

"He is a great defender and has very good qualities. "

 

Alaba explained he has spoken to Ramos about taking on his famous shirt number.

"Ramos was here for a decade and has played football very well wearing this number and has become a leader," he said. "It is something that is present in everyone's head.

"He spoke to me. I was told that it is the last available number and I did not want to ask other players for their number. I feel honoured and it is a great motivation for me."

Even though a tough close-season market and the relatively parlous state of Madrid's finances look like obvious stumbling blocks, Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe continues to be linked with the club.

Alaba was on the winning side when Bayern beat PSG in the 2020 Champions League final, but Mbappe excelled when the Ligue 1 giants deposed the European champions in last season's quarter-finals.

The France forward's 42 goals in all competitions last season put him second only to Robert Lewandowski (48) across Europe's big five leagues.

"He is a world-class player and he has enormous quality, that is something indisputable," Alaba added.

"I think it is something that does not affect me. That question should be addressed to other people."

A Liverpool stalwart might make an early exit from the club.

Jordan Henderson is under contract for two more years and is said to want an extension.

But talks have reportedly not progressed, potentially opening the door for outside suitors.

 

TOP STORY - HENDERSON COULD LEAVE ANFIELD

Completing a new deal for Henderson is reportedly not a priority for Liverpool's ownership this off-season, and The Athletic says a move could be on the cards for the England international.

The report cites Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino as a long-time admirer of the midfielder and notes Henderson's close friendship with Atletico Madrid's Luis Suarez as potentially weighing in favour of a move to one of those clubs.

Liverpool are said to be eager to get something in return for Henderson, should he leave, after watching Georginio Wijnaldum move to PSG on a free transfer last month.

 

ROUND-UP

- If the rumoured swap deal that would send Saul Niguez to Barcelona and Antoine Griezmann to Atletico falls through, the Daily Mail reports that Liverpool and Manchester United could swoop for the 26-year-old Spaniard.

- Raphael Varane's expected move to Old Trafford is gaining momentum, as Fabrizio Romano reports the Real Madrid centre-back has told United he is "ready" to accept their contract offer should the clubs agree to terms.

- Tottenham are set to acquire Pierluigi Gollini from Atalanta on loan through next season with a €15million option to make the move permanent, says Romano, and Football London reports Atalanta defender Cristian Romero also is in talks to join Spurs.

- Manchester United's Donny van de Beek could be headed to Barcelona on loan, according to Mundo Deportivo.

- Villarreal are the leaders to sign Arnaut Danjuma away from Bournemouth, the Sun reports, with Villa and Southampton also possibilities for the Dutch forward.

- Burnley winger Dwight McNeil is Everton's top transfer target according to the Mirror, though the Liverpool Echo says Aston Villa may also be in the mix.

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