European champions Real Madrid got back to winning ways yesterday afternoon, beating Getafe 3-0 with a second-half resurgence in La Liga.
Carlo Ancelotti has largely decided on a settled team in recent months, which has been good for the consistency of the side but surely frustrating for those members of his squad looking on from the sidelines.
One such fringe player is Raphaël Varane, who got a rare opportunity to play at the Estadio Coliseum Alfonso Pérez due to Pepe picking up an injury in midweek.
The Portugal international is part of Ancelotti’s first choice centre-half pairing with Sergio Ramos, but is expected to be out of action for a number of weeks with bruised ribs.
In truth, the Italian coach will surely have been tempted to make a change in his back four after the 2-2 midweek draw with Atlético Madrid, where Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres ran the Los Blancos’ defence ragged.
Pepe was at fault for both of Atleti’s goals in the Copa del Rey clash and as such Varane will have felt that he deserved his chance at inclusion in the team to face Getafe.
The France international defender moved to the Santiago Bernabéu from Lens back in the summer of 2011, apparently spurning interest from Manchester United in the process, and was quickly being likened to great compatriots of days gone by such as Laurent Blanc.
In his debut campaign in the Spanish capital Varane was given a handful of opportunities to show what he could do, while the following season José Mourinho opted for the youngster over Pepe for a substantial period of time.
However, since Ancelotti has arrived at the club, Varane has only started 18 games in the space of 18 months, with the former Paris Saint-Germain boss giving experience the nod over youthful potential.
The 21-year-old has had issues with knee injuries that have limited his involvement with the team in the past, but after the Getafe fixture he clarified that he has been fit to play over the last 12 months – but more often than not hasn’t been selected rather than not being available.
Varane’s inclusion against Getafe was a low risk one, as the former Lens man has all the defensive attributes necessary to stamp out the modest home side’s attack and managed to do so without any major issues.
His ability to stride out of Madrid’s rearguard with the ball, lifting his head up and picking intelligent passes was a virtue in yesterday’s victory, while Varane looked like a player with the confidence of a veteran rather than a youngster.
In fixtures against tougher opponents in La Liga and on the continent, the argument to play Pepe adds up.
The former Porto enforcer has a physicality and aerial presence that can help to diffuse opposition attacks, a career’s-worth of experience and has formed a consistent partnership with Ramos.
However, in the long run Ancelotti must look to bed Varane into the team as he has the potential to evolve into a much more rounded and accomplished defender than Pepe every could be.
The Portuguese’s poor disciplinary record, temper and impetuousness are a constant risk for Madrid, and although Varane does not have the same strength or presence as Pepe, he is much quicker across the ground.
Just how long Pepe is on the sidelines remains to be seen, but with fixtures against Córdoba and Real Sociedad in upcoming weeks Varane has a golden opportunity to stake a claim for regular inclusion in the starting XI.