Real Madrid center back Raphael Varane could be the most important player on the pitch next Friday.
There might not be a better center back in the world than Real Madrid star Raphael Varane. A World Cup winner and four-time Champions League winner, Varane is coming off his third La Liga title and was the best defensive player in the league, specifically in 2020.
One-half of the best center back pairing in the world, Varane will have to go at it without his partner Sergio Ramos against Manchester City. That means on Aug. 7 at the Etihad Stadium, Varane will need to take on a major leadership role next to Eder Militao. The last time these two started together in a big Champions League game, they lost 3-0 at the Parc des Princes to a PSG team playing without Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Real Madrid are the stronger side in terms of form since football’s return, having won all 10 of their games after the restart to win the title before drawing 2-2 to Leganes with many of their backups playing.
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But Real are still not favored to advance, since they are down 2-1. Realistically, Los Blancos need to get a clean sheet without their starting center back and captain, because it’s hard to see them scoring more than two goals on the road against Pep Guardiola’s side.
And getting a clean sheet against world-class attacking players like Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, and Riyad Mahrez is another difficult task.
It’s one that Los Blancos are capable of fulfilling, though.
Remember, this is a team that held Barcelona to clean sheets in two Clasicos this season, including a majestic performance at the Santiago Bernabeu in March in which Varane helped keep Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi frozen out of the game. But he, of course, needed Ramos’ help.
What should make Real fans optimistic, though, is the growing chemistry between Varane and Militao. They’ve started together before this season, including in a 3-0 win over Getafe in which Varane scored a goal and created an own goal. And without Varane, Militao stopped two goal-scoring opportunities from Athletic Bilbao star Iñaki Williams at San Mames.
Militao has Champions League experience from Porto and has shown at numerous points in the 2019-2020 La Liga season that he has what it takes to develop into a starting center back at Real Madrid. But at 22, a road game against Manchester City’s Mahrez, Sterling, and Gabriel Jesus is a tall order.
So it will be up to Varane to be the leader of the back four, catching danger before it develops and calmly playing out of the back. It must be Varane who covers for any mistakes Militao may make, vocally pointing where his partner needs to be, even. And it could be Varane who comes up with the winning play on either end of the pitch, much like Ramos has done and much like Varane himself did against Getafe without the beloved Captain.
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If there’s a player you need to keep an eye on more than anyone else next Friday against Manchester City, then it is Real Madrid’s once-in-a-generation talent at center back.