But asked whether there was an issue with the former France international, Ten Hag said: “Absolutely not. As I said, it is about tactical reasons why I chose these partnerships. I think Harry [Maguire] and Jonny [Evans] did well.
“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.”
His absence leaves Ten Hag to choose between Varane, Maguire and Victor Lindelöf. Varane and Maguire played together for the majority of the 4-3 defeat to FC Copenhagen on Wednesday after Evans was substituted but Ten Hag hinted they are not the best partners at the back.
“There are moments in certain games where they can play together and they have already proven they can do it,” said the United manager.
“But the buildup is not that fluid when one of them is playing from the left centre-back position because I think Licha [Lisandro Martínez], obviously, Luke Shaw, obviously, Jonny Evans and Victor Lindelof, they 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.”
United recorded more Premier League clean sheets than any other team last season but have struggled defensively since the start of the new campaign.
Ten Hag’s team have conceded 30 goals in 17 games and 10 in their last four matches. The Dutchman says a lengthy injury list hasn’t helped but admits his available players should be performing better.
“Every time you have to swap your back four, it is difficult,” said Ten Hag.
“We had a new keeper coming in and every time you form a new back four and they know the rules and principles, but the routines are not the same.
“Communication is so important, but that is all split-second decisions. You need that cooperation and you need it 100% because when it doesn’t work, then you concede goals at this level.
“So far, I think we could almost never play the starting XI I wanted. But that is never an excuse. We want to win games and we have good players across the squad and they can all do the job.”