Raphael Varane’s Loss Could Be William Saliba’s Gain At 2022 World Cup

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 22: William Saliba of France salutes the fans following the UEFA Nations ... [+] League League A Group 1 match between France and Austria at Stade de France on September 22, 2022 in Saint-Denis near Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

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Raphael Varane knew quickly that something wasn’t right. The Manchester United defender overstretched in attempting to make a tackle in the 1-1 draw against Chelsea and instantly pulled up. Lying on the ground in pain, Varane became emotional. His participation in the 2022 World Cup for France was surely on his mind.

Varane has been a key figure for Les Blues for years. The 29-year-old was part of the France team that won the 2018 World Cup in Russia and he was expected to be a central pillar of Didier Deschamps’ side that will defend its title in Qatar this winter. That might now be at risk with Varane predicted to be sidelined for a month.

However, Varane’s loss could be William Saliba’s gain. The Arsenal defender could be in line to replace Varane in the France lineup for the 2022 World Cup, capping a remarkable rise over the last 12 months. Not so long ago considered a forgotten figure at the Emirates Stadium, Saliba is now one of the best in his position in the Premier PINC League.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22: Raphael Varane of Manchester United receives medical attention ... [+] during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on October 22, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images)

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Saliba has all the qualities to ensure France don’t suffer much of a drop-off if Varane is unavailable to play in Qatar. He is comfortable on the ball and adept at bringing possession out from the back, but has the physicality to first and foremost stop opposition attackers before they can find the back of the net.

One of Varane’s most valuable qualities is his pace. This is what allows him to play in a high defensive line - he has the recovery pace to get back and intervene when opponents look to exploit the space in behind. Saliba might not be as lightning quick as Varane, but he is used to playing a high line for Arsenal this season.

France’s squad depth means that they will still be among the favourites to win the 2022 World Cup even if Varane isn’t fit enough to make their squad. Deschamps is spoiled for choice in almost every area of the pitch. No national team manager has the breadth of options that he has at this moment in time.

N’Golo Kante will also miss the 2022 World Cup for France with Paul Pogba still recovering from an injury that has seen him miss the start of the 2022/23 season for Juventus - he has still to make his first competitive appearance for the Old Lady since joining from Manchester United in the summer window.

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 09: Didier Deschamps, Head Coach of France is interviewed ... [+] following the UEFA EURO 2024 qualifying round draw at Messe Frankfurt on October 09, 2022 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Boris Streubel - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

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The France team that arrives in Qatar could be very different to the win that lifted the World Cup in Moscow four years ago, particularly in midfield. Without a sound defensive basis, though, Deschamps’ conservative approach and that’s why he must give particular thought to Varane and his situation.

Deschamps must be careful not to upset the dynamic of his team in attempting to replace Varane. Dayot Upamecano could play in central defence, but the Bayern Munich player doesn’t have the qualities to step into the void left by Varane. Saliba, however, does have those qualities. 

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