Manchester United’s next transfer decision after Raphael Varane will depend on two factors

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Every major new signing at a club the scale of Manchester United brings with it new challenges. The deal to sign Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund will inevitably affect others already in the squad and the same will be true if Raphael Varane arrives from Real Madrid.

That is the cut-throat reality of being at a club that expects to challenge for titles domestically and in Europe. There’s always someone who is going to be gunning for your place and you can’t rest on your laurels. Demotion is only ever a transfer window away.

It’s arguably easier to accept in forward areas. Sancho will come in as a starter for United and maybe that will mean less game time for Mason Greenwood to begin with, but rotation is a regular occurrence in attack and substitutes tend to be made to affect the final third of the pitch.

 

That’s not the case in defence. Rotation is rarer at the back and substitutions even rarer. If Varane arrives then a centre back pairing of the France international and Harry Maguire is going to be extremely difficult to break up. With United back in the Champions League there will be no Thursday-night Europa League games to rotate for, which might make domestic cup fixtures the likely target for those on the fringes.

With Axel Tuanzebe set for a loan move away from Old Trafford this summer that will leave Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly as third and fourth-choice central defenders. That is some serious strength in depth at United, but it will also present a challenge keeping them happy.

Lindelof has enjoyed two good seasons as a regular alongside Maguire, but will lose his place to Varane. He’s never quite established himself as undroppable, but at the same time he’s been genuinely reliable and he showed his quality in Euro 2020, where he defended determinedly and resolutely for Sweden.

 

How Lindelof reacts to suddenly being out of the side could condition United’s next move. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s man-management is one of his strengths at United but it’s difficult to see how he can keep both Lindelof and Bailly happy.

Bailly played more regularly last season, starting 19 games in all competitions, and he signed a new contract in April, but before the Europa League final he admitted that didn’t mean he was definitely going to remain at the club until June 2024 and that his future was dependant on playing regularly.

 

“The new contract is fine but if I don’t play I will be open to listen to other proposals.”

If Bailly wasn’t enamoured by being third-choice centre back then the signing of Varane is unlikely to improve his mood. Liverpool’s travails of last season showed the value of having depth at the back and a quarter of Maguire, Varane, Lindelof and Bailly would be as strong as any unit in the Premier League, but keeping the latter two happy will be a challenge for Solskjaer.

Who responds to the competition best could well condition whether either is moved on in the next 12 months, with Tuanzebe and Teden Mengi likely to be pushing for squad places next summer.

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