When the transfer window closed last September it looked like Manchester United’s business had been very good indeed. ‘Winning’ the transfer window is very much a social media phenomenon from deal-hungry supporters, but at Old Trafford they were more than satisfied with their new arrivals.
Almost a full season on, the gloss certainly hasn’t been wiped off that window entirely, although it clearly didn’t provide the impetus required to shunt United from second to serious title challengers. The campaign has unraveled dramatically and while all three major arrivals last summer have contributed, they’ve all had question marks around them this season as well.
There is the returning hero in attack, a striker with 18 goals in 32 games, but the true worth of Cristiano Ronaldo continues to be questioned and for all his heroics in front of goal, there have been plenty of occasions when he hasn’t looked a natural fit under either Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Ralf Rangnick.
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Jadon Sancho is starting to come good now, but the £73million winger took his time to find his groove and, while he is beginning to get fans off their seats, there have still only been five goals and three assists from 34 appearances. That tally will have to rise significantly next season.
Then there is Raphael Varane. When he signed from Real Madrid the World Cup winner looked like a world-class addition and he has definitely improved United’s defense when he’s played. The problem has been his availability of him.
It wouldn’t be fair to say he has always been injury-prone, although there has been a catalog of minor issues dating back five years. In his final five seasons at Real Madrid, there were 11 separate occasions when Varane was unavailable, although none kept him out for longer than six games.
That is a pattern that is beginning to repeat itself in the Premier League, however, and with the 28-year-old absent for today’s trip to Goodison Park, he will now have missed 15 games through illness or injury this season — through five different absences during the campaign.
Surprisingly, United’s record without Varane is marginally better than when he is in the team, although while they’ve won 47 per cent of the time when he isn’t starting (compared to 41 per cent when he is) they’ve also lost 37 per cent of the games without him, losing only 14 per cent of the time he is in the team.
A record of just three defeats from the 22 games he’s started feels like a much fairer reflection of his influence on the side, but that also raises an issue this summer.
Varane will clearly be a vital cog for the next manager — almost certainly Erik ten Hag — but he will also need to avoid the kind of stop-start injury issues he’s had this season, although it should be pointed out one of his absences was down to Covid-19.
For all his critics this season, it would be a surprise if Harry Maguire wasn’t the favored center back to partner Varane at the start of next season. That leaves Victor Lindelof in reserve but there will be uncertainty over the fourth choice, with both Eric Bailly and Phil Jones keen to leave in search of more first-team football.
That strength in depth will be tested if Varane does have spells where he is on the sidelines again next season. United have other priorities when the transfer window opens this summer, notably in midfield and attack, but the fitness record of last season’s center back arrival will be of concern heading into next season.
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