It wasn’t so long ago that Rafael was a very important part of United, in Fergie’s last season the little Brazilian was outstanding and was arguably with Zabaleta the best right back in the Premier League. Last season things changed, injuries and Moyes’s team selection meant Rafa didn’t make many appearances and fell out of favour. But with his first appearance of the season against QPR on Sunday he showed what United have been missing down the right hand side for nearly a year. There were lots of great performers from United players on Sunday with Di Maria showing what he’s capable of as well as Blind receiving plenty of praise, but a Rafa quietly had a very good game. Although QPR were very poor Rafa attacked brilliantly, making clever passes, defended aggressively and overlapped intelligently.
It was clear to see that Rafa’s performance on Sunday showed he is easily the best option for United at right back with many others getting a chance there over the past year. From the start of season with the use of 3-5-2 system Valencia has mainly played that wide right role and he also played a fair bit last season at right back as well. It’s great that a player is versatile and can play multiple positions but it’s safe to say that TonyV should stay as a backup. The Valencia United fans once knew just isn’t here anymore; the Ecuadorian now seems to just slow United’s play down which is something Rafa certainly doesn’t do.
Along with Valencia, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have played extended periods at right back over the past couple of seasons. Jones does a decent job pretty much like he does in most positions he’s played in but we all know Jones needs to stay and play centre back from now on. Smalling though just doesn’t suit or fit the right back spot, played their because of his pace and it gives the defence a bit of extra height he just isn’t good enough with the ball. His passing and crossing are poor and United’s play suffered a lot last season when he played there.
It is clear that if Rafael can stay fit, something that he has had trouble with over the past year then he should be first choice without a doubt. The Brazilian has room to improve as he’s by nowhere means the finished article but time is on his side. He still does have a rash side to him that we’ve seen which has got him sent off on occasion. At times his aggression is fantastic as he pressures many wingers into mistakes, one touch from a wide man and he’s instantly there harassing them to get the ball back. But then this has its down sides, as he can be caught out of position or give away silly free kicks. Something which he will learn with experience is judging when it’s the best time to jump into to intercept the ball or tackle his man.
He could also improve his crossing, although it’s better than most in the United squad as a modern fullback especially when playing for United it’s very important to have a great delivery. Rafa could definitely take a leaf out of Gary Neville’s book who spent years practicing and perfecting his crossing, which saw him rack up many assists over the seasons.
A rare trait in a full back and something which Rafa possess is the ability to grab a few goals in a season. Yet again remember back to Fergie’s last season, the Brazilian scored two brilliant goals, both great strikes. He certainly shows his Brazilian side when coming forward and posses a cracking shot. If Rafa stays in the team for the reminder of the season then he can certainly grab a couple of goals along with some assists.
It may have been against QPR but Rafael certainty showed what Unted have been missing over the past year and it’s great to have him back. Though some consider the fullback an unimportant position at United it has always been an integral part to the way United have played since the early 90’s. Add in the fact that with the likes of Shaw to still get his chance it’s looking extremely promising going forward to this season and beyond in the full back area.