The emergence of Rafael amidst Manchester United’s defensive woes

by Sam Peoples

By Joe Woodier

In and amongst Manchester United’s defensive inconsistency so far this campaign, the performances of our right back Rafael so far have been surprisingly solid.

He has recently been voted Manchester United’s player of the month for September and it is easy to see why. He has been a constant figure it United’s backline since he was brought into the side against Fulham and his impressed ever since.

His all-time goal-scoring tally has doubled during his seven appearances so far this season, with him scoring vital goals against Fulham and Liverpool, including the equaliser in the win at Anfield. Often when the play is narrow Rafael has been an outlet and gave us width; he ensures that he remains available for the midfielders to spread the play. His close control has been imperious and his crossing has been superb.

However the Brazilian’s attacking flair has never been doubted; the aspect of his game that people have continuously questioned is his defensive ability. In previous seasons he has often left United exposed during his ventures upfield and his dubious positional sense.

This no longer appears to be the case with Rafael and there is a new maturity to his game. He is choosing when to make forward runs more wisely now and his previous tendency of diving into challenges has been eradicated from his game.

Perhaps this development can be in a way put down to the experience of playing International football for Brazil during the Olympic Games over the summer. He slotted comfortably into their backline alongside the likes of Thiago Silva and is now providing Daniel Alves strong competition for the role.

Another factor behind Rafael’s development this campaign is that he has been allowed a long, uninterrupted run of games in the side. This in a way is due to the defensive injuries of Jones and Smalling – without having to fear for his position the Brazilian has been able to relax and not feel that he has to prove himself every time he starts.

Rio Ferdinand has recently spoken out about Rafael’s temperament and his views echo the point previously raised that he feels a need to prove himself all the time. “Rafa is his own worst critic. He is emotional and sometimes when he makes a mistake he has to make up for it immediately.”

His mentality hasn’t completely changed and never will – but now he has realised that he just needs to stay composed instead of chasing down men that do not need chasing, and diving in where it isn’t necessary.  If his early season form continues then I see no reason why that number 2 shirt he has recently acquired can’t be his for many years to come.

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