Erik ten Hag reveals reluctance to play Raphael Varane alongside Harry Maguire

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has voiced concerns over the centre-back pairing of Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire.

Varane was surprisingly benched for the 4-3 defeat to Copenhagen in favour of Jonny Evans, who started alongside a resurgent Maguire before being forced off through injury early in the game.

With United confirming Evans will miss the “next few weeks” with a thigh strain, the centre-back joins Lisandro Martinez on the treatment table and further limits Ten Hag’s options in defence, where left-backs Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia are also sidelined.

While Varane and Maguire would appear to be top of the current pecking order of available defenders, Ten Hag confessed he would prefer to keep the two players apart.

Asked whether it is either Varane or Maguire in his lineup, Ten Hag admitted: “Ideally, but there are moments in certain games where they can play together and they have already proven they can do it.

“But the build-up is not that fluid when one of them is playing from the left centre-back position because I think Licha (Lisandro Martinez), obviously, Luke Shaw, obviously, Jonny Evans and Victor Lindelof are right-footed, but they can play really comfortably with their left and make the right angles, then you can construct a better formation where you can start to play.

“Maguire is doing very well at the moment, and I am very happy with that. As I always said, Maguire can do the job – and now he is showing he can do the job. Rapha Varane always played the games he was available because he was doing that well.”

Erik ten Hag

Ten Hag has decisions to make / James Gill – Danehouse/GettyImages

Faced with claims from United great Paul Scholes that Maguire and Evans’ ball-playing abilities had seen them become Ten Hag’s preferred defenders, the boss insisted tactics are behind every decision he makes rather than individual attributes.

“That was never the issue,” Ten Hag stressed. “I think Rapha did very well in combination with Licha Martinez. He was brilliant. I can also see good combinations with Rapha Varane and Evans or with Victor Lindelof. They are very good combinations. It is about tactical reasons why I chose these partnerships.

“What I said last year Harry didn’t play a lot, so I was very happy with Rapha’s performances. I have always been happy with his performance. But in this moment, Harry is playing very well and there is internal competition.”

United are back in action on Saturday against Luton Town, with Ten Hag forced to pick between Maguire, Varane and Lindelof for his starting centre-backs.


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