Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has confirmed Rafael ‘may not be risked’ against Southampton on Sunday.
The 24-year-old suffered a fractured cheekbone against Yeovil Town last Sunday during an aerial collision but the defender played on until half-time before being withdrawn by his manager.
Early fears suggested the returning Rafael could miss six weeks but it appears he will be able to play with a protective mask but nevertheless it seems the defender won’t be risked on Sunday.
It’s a blow given Rafael had just returned from a lengthy spell out but if the Brazil international really can play with a mask it could mean he returns swiftly against QPR next weekend.
The return of Antonio Valencia gives van Gaal secure options to replace Rafael but the Ecuadorian’s inclusion could mean the unpopular 3-5-2 system stays for at least another weekend.
When both Rafael and Luke Shaw were fit earlier in the season, United regularly lined up with a flat back four but have regularly played three at the back when Valencia and Ashley Young had to step in.
The bonus is that United have all four first choice centre-backs fit plus Patrick McNair and Tyler Blackett. Smalling, Evans and Jones will be expected to continue in defence with Marcos Rojo also ready to return.