RAPHAEL VARANE was put on a special training program to transform him into an ‘immense’ centre-back.
That led to his delayed start to the campaign — with Varane only coming off the bench into Manchester United’s starting line-up for Monday’s win over Liverpool.
Ten Hag explained: “Varane’s stature is immense and in pre-season we took a decision to build him physically, so that he had a bit of a slow start.
“We’re happy we built him in that way and you see when the team needed him, he was there.
“His profile, his stature and what he has won already in the past shows he can really contribute to his team.”
Varane, 29, partnered up with new buy Lisandro Martinez on Monday and the pairing won rave reviews.
Skipper Harry Maguire was axed and will be on the bench again for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off at Southampton.
It looks like he will have to get used to it as well, with Ten Hag insisting that having the captaincy does not mean he is entitled to a starting place.
The Dutchman said: “It doesn’t mean when you are captain, you are established to play always, especially when you also have Varane in your squad.”
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He was already under pressure after a poor previous season.
The problem for him now is hanging on to his England starting place if he is not featuring regularly for United.
Maguire has always performed consistently well for the Three Lions and had the backing of manager Gareth Southgate.
But a lack of first-team football will come into his consideration when he is deciding on his starting line-up for the World Cup that starts in November.
But it remains to be seen how long he can handle being a bit-part player perhaps called up only for domestic cups games and the Europa League. Ten Hag is just happy to have competition, though his first-choice centre-back pairing is clearly Varane and Martinez now.
Ten Hag said: “For the team there is competition and we need that. We have to cover so many games and we can see from game to game what we need.
“We can see that in the construction against Liverpool but in the second half in Brentford we played with Varane and Maguire in the centre so there are options.
We have competition internally and that’s good and that is what top teams need
Erik ten Hag
“I forget because of injuries that Victor Lindelof did really well for us in pre-season.
“I am happy that he will be back in the squad so we will have another option. We have competition internally and that’s good and that is what top teams need.”
However, the problem going forward is what Ten Hag will do about the captaincy.
Bruno Fernandes took the armband on Monday and Ten Hag was delighted with his response.
Portuguese Fernandes will be starting all the key games while the chances are Maguire will not.
But Old Trafford chief Ten Hag said: “I am not looking so far ahead. We are only one game. We have a leader group and Harry is one, Bruno is one.
“Bruno did quite well as captain. He led by example and he brings so much energy to the team in and out of possession.”
New £70million signing Casemiro could start at Saints as United aim to build on the confidence-boosting performance and result against a Liverpool team Ten Hag regards as the “world’s best”.
He explained: “I said before the game that Liverpool, especially last year, is the best football team in the world and when you then beat them it must give a lot of confidence — that is clear.
I’m really curious, do we learn the lesson from Brentford because this will more or less be the same approach
Erik ten Hag
“It’s clear it’s one game, we have to build further on and everyone is aware of that.
“I’m really curious, do we learn the lesson from Brentford because this will more or less be the same approach.
“Transition, running, battling, fighting — and we just have to make it about our game.
“We are not the world’s top team but the intention always has to be for United to look far better.
“So good is not good enough, always go for better.
“That has to be the culture on the pitch and that is what the demand is on the players but also in every department on the club.
“It has to be the standard at United — it’s the demand and we have to go that way.”