In the absence of Pepe, Raphael Varane proved that he is preparing to stake a claim at Real Madrid with an impressive start to the new La Liga campaign.
The France international returned to action after a lengthy injury, appearing stronger than in previous seasons during Los Blancos’ opening weekend 3-0 win over Real Sociedad.
He was also responsible for setting the wheels in motion for Marco Asensio to double the European champions’ advantage at the Estadio Anoeta with a long-range pass.
With Pepe returning from Euro 2016 later than his Los Blancos team mates, Varane is intent on forcing his way into Zinedine Zidane’s first-team plans.
Leaving the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu had previously appeared a certainty for the 23-year-old after he struggled for game time due to injury and Pepe’s partnership with Sergio Ramos at the heart of Real’s defence.
A hamstring injury ended his hopes of featuring in both the Champions League final and his country’s run to the final of Euro 2016 this summer.
Several clubs had expressed an interest in taking Varane but talks with compatriot Zidane saw him pledge to a fifth successive season at Real.
“I spoke with the club, and with Zinedine Zidane, and decided to stay,” said Varane.
“I am confident that I will continue to improve here and that the best is yet to come.”