Rafael is now back in training with Manchester United and Louis van Gaal wants him to play with the U21s in order to work on his match fitness and sharpness ahead of a full return to the first-team.
The Brazilian right-back has been sidelined since suffering a training ground injury and Antonio Valencia has filled in at right-back in his absence.
Reports this weekend suggest Rafael has travelled with United down to Southampton but it sounds like Van Gaal wants him to get game time with the U21s first, just like Jonny Evans did for two successive games.
“Yes, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Van Gaal said about injuries.
“Jones will train with the team next week if everything is good. Rafael has already trained with us for one week. Also now he has to play in the second squad. I’m sorry for that but it is my philosophy and the players [should understand]. If they don’t I’m not interested.”
Valencia has done well in Rafael’s absence but fails to carry as much attacking threat as the Brazilian does without neglecting his defensive duties.
There have been persistent rumours all season that Van Gaal doesn’t rate Rafael but when fit his performances will have impressed the United boss, and he’ll want his first choice right-back available for the busy festive period.
The imminent return of Jones is also a boost for United as the injury woes of the past few months begin to subside somewhat.