The World Cup is starting to prey on players’ minds. Raphael Varane’s reaction to getting injured while playing for Manchester United at the weekend was a case in point.
The France defender left the field at Stamford Bridge in tears after damaging his right hamstring while stretching to make a tackle in the second half of United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea.
After receiving treatment, he was inconsolable and pulled his jersey over his head as United teammates came over, some putting their arms around him and Portugal international Diogo Dalot even kissing him on the side of the head.
Hardly a normal reaction from Varane, or indeed his teammates, to an injury. Make no mistake — the World Cup, which is less than a month away, is weighing heavy in their thoughts.
For France coach Didier Deschamps, defensive woes are piling up, with Varane’s fitness for the tournament now clearly in doubt and other defenders recovering from injuries.
Varane is crucial to the defending World Cup champions as their best and most experienced defender. The elegant, ball-playing 29-year-old has outstanding positional play and is an astute reader of the game. He made all of his 87 international appearances under Deschamps and played a crucial part in the team’s World Cup success four years ago.
His regular center-back partner is Presnel Kimpembe, who has made 28 international appearances, but he only just resumed training after recovering from a hamstring injury. Kimpembe could at least play in a handful of games for Paris Saint-Germain before the World Cup.
Wesley Fofana, signed by Chelsea by $87 million in the transfer window, has yet to make his France debut but could provide valuable cover in Qatar. However, Fofana injured his knee at the start of this month and is not expected to play for Chelsea before the World Cup.
That means Arsenal’s William Saliba has a strong chance of getting in the squad — and perhaps even playing in France’s opener against Australia on Nov. 22. The 21-year-old Saliba’s form has helped Arsenal to the top of the Premier League.
If Varane and Kimpembe are both sidelined, then Saliba could line up alongside Bayern Munich’s Dayot Upamecano, who like Saliba has seven France caps.
Another option is Monaco’s Benoit Badiashile, but he has only just broken into the France squad.
Switzerland playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri has returned home to prepare for the World Cup after his club Chicago Fire failed to reach the MLS playoffs.
Shaqiri will train for the next three weeks with Lugano, the Swiss club that is owned like Chicago by American billionaire Joe Mansueto.
Lugano said Monday the temporary deal was approved by the MLS, although the former Liverpool player cannot take part in Swiss league games.
The 31-year-old Shaqiri is preparing for his fourth World Cup, and has scored a total of four goals at the previous three tournaments.
Germany midfielder Florian Neuhaus will miss the tournament as he continues his recovery from a knee injury sustained playing for Borussia Mönchengladbach.
The 25-year-old Neuhaus, who had started each of Gladbach’s first six Bundesliga games of the season, partially ruptured the rear cruciate ligament in his right knee in a challenge with Freiburg player Daniel-Kofi Kyereh on Sept. 11.
An operation isn’t necessary but the recovery still takes time.
“I hope that he can be back quickly, but we have to be careful with him,” Gladbach coach Daniel Farke said before Saturday’s game against Eintracht Frankfurt. “I’m not counting on him before the World Cup break.”
Neuhaus said he spoke with Germany coach Hansi Flick about missing the tournament “even if it was already clear to me.”
Neuhaus was part of Germany’s Euro 2020 squad last year and has made 10 international appearances.
ADAMS FEARS EASED
The absence of Tyler Adams on the team sheet for Leeds’ Premier League match against Fulham on Sunday immediately raised concerns for the United States.
After all, the midfielder has played all 90 minutes in each of Leeds’ first 10 games in the league.
Leeds manager Jesse Marsch sought to downplay the seriousness of the undisclosed injury, which Adams sustained in the match against Leicester on Thursday
“We’re hopeful this won’t be longer than a few days,” Marsch said.