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Is Raphäel Varane the key for Real Madrid's defensive improvement?

After a complicated 2013-2014 season in which his recurrent knee injuries put him in trouble, the French defender seems to be ready to fight for a spot with Pepe.

Matthias Hangst

Three years ago, Real Madrid signed an eighteen-year-old centerback that barely nobody in Spain knew of. "Varane is one of the greatest prospects in European football" was the most repeated headline back then, but many Real Madrid fans doubted he would be able to confirm the expectations posed on him in a context which does not really favor the progression of youngsters. Besides, the Pepe-Ramos couple partnership dominated the Spanish Liga BBVA in such a decisive way that changing anything there seemed a bad idea.

Any other player in his situation would have likely thrown in the towel and would have asked for a transfer in order to play more often, but Rafa is just one of a kind. Many people who know him pick his maturity as his most important virtue, and he proved he has it. Knowing he was part of the best team in the world, he worked as hard as possible to learn everything he could from his partners and coaches and, one year later, his chance arrived. A brilliant performance against FC Barcelona in the Copa del Rey opened the gate for him and made him a regular starter until the end of the season, when he suffered a meniscus fracture that kept bothering him for a year.

Luckily enough, he is completely recovered now, and Pepe's injury has enabled him to be a starter in Real Madrid's last three league games, in which he has arguably been our best defender. His cold head and, obviously, his speed have been essential to push the defensive line far from our own goal to manage a more compact appearance, and his control of the box and the aerial play seem to have improved as well.

His performance in Villarreal was superb yesterday, and this made him Real Madrid's Man of the Match according to Whoscored. Two successful tackles out of two attempts, five interceptions and a stunning 83% of aerial duels won turned him into a defensive wall against Villarreal's onslaughts. Furthermore, he only made a foul throughout the whole game, confirming once again that he is one of the cleanest defenders in the world (fun fact: since he became a Real Madrid player, he has won more trophies than the number of times he has been booked).

After his good game, Lucas Navarrete was able to talk to him about his continuity. He had not started three games in a row for a long time, and here's what Varane had to say.

As long as his knees let him, Raphäel Varane will be a great asset for Real Madrid and, with continuity, he will for sure keep progressing, since he is still 21. The coaching and managing boards have confirmed their trust on him by extending his contract until 2020. Now that Pepe is back, Rafa must do his part to earn a spot.

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