Manchester United hope to take their defense up a level before the 2021/22 season by working on offers to sign midfielder Raphael Varane from Real Madrid and right-back Kieran Trippier from Atletico Madrid.
Varane is seen in particular as a final piece in the puzzle for United defensively, with the French expected to be an upgrade of Victor Lindelof as a long-term partner for Harry Maguire.
The two new additions, if United could pull them off in the next few weeks, will offer not only depth for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjär to call but also tactical flexibility.
The assumption is that Maguire and Varane would always work together, fitness allows or with the exception of mass rotation, and that a back-three would never have less than two specialist backs.
With that in mind, here’s a look at United can line up defensively this season.
Man Utd try to write Raphael Varane from Real Madrid / Denis Doyle / Getty Images
Solskjaer’s primary tactical system uses a typical flat back four, which gives him the freedom to use more midfielders and forward further up the pitch.
The obvious four would see Varane as the only addition to last season’s preferred unit instead of Lindelof, with the Frenchman collaborating with Maguire and with Wan-Bissaka and Shaw on each side.
But the back depth would make it possible for Solskjaer to mix things up if the situation requires it. This means that Trippier, who offers more in the future, can come in for Wan-Bissaka. There is also the opportunity for Telles to fill for Shaw on the left sometimes.
Wan-Bissaka (RB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (LB)
Trippier (RB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (LB)
Trippier (RB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Telles (LB)
Wan-Bissaka (RB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Telles (LB)
Kieran Trippier would offer Man Utd greater tactical flexibility / Angel Martinez / Getty Images
Solskjaer is no stranger to choosing a system of three midfielders, especially by using last season when United beat Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, and there are a number of different configurations that make such an attitude both possible and attractive.
The third center back does not have to be a specialist back. It may be Lindelof who joins Maguire and Varane, but for more flexibility and mobility, it is also a strong alternative to ask either Shaw or Wan-Bissaka to stop. Shaw has done it for United before and Wan-Bissaka is probably better suited to be an extra midfielder as his strength defends over attack.
Tripper who acts as a wingback outside Wan-Bissaka can be a good partnership on the right.
It is unlikely that Solskjaer would ever use both Wan-Bissaka and Shaw as center-backs at the same time, unless they are forced by injuries, but the latter has also shown fine sharpness as a wing-back, having excelled there in a handful of games when England used a similar system at Euro 2020.
Wan Bissaka (RWB), Lindelof (CB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (LWB)
Wan-Bissaka (RWB), Varane (CB), Maguire (CB), Shaw (CB), Telles (LWB)
Trippier (RWB), Lindelof (CB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (LWB)
Trippier (RWB), Wan-Bissaka (CB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (LWB)
Trippier (RWB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (CB), Telles (LWB)
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