After recently signing a new four-year deal which will keep him at Old Trafford until the end of the 2015/16 season, the time has come for Rafael Da Silva to step up and make the right back spot his own during the 2012/13 season.
At 21 years of age, Rafael has made 90 appearances already for the Red Devils and will be looking to improve on his average of 22.5 games a season with a sustained run in the team, if he can stay fit and convince Sir Alex that he is a better option than both Phil Jones and Chris Smalling once he returns from the Olympics.
Although everyone agrees that the youngster is great to watch running down the wing, Sir Alex has often overlooked him for the more dogged Phil Jones or more conservative Chris Smalling, who both, it is presumed, offer greater defensive certainty. Unsurprisingly, both Jones and Smalling made more clearances last season per game (although some of these were at centre back) but Rafael made significantly more tackles than the pair of them and the sheer amount of times he gets his foot in is possibly the reason why he is so often criticised for making more rash challenges than most – even though he averages less cautions per game than Phil Jones.
PL & CL Only
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Having two attacking full backs has recently been seen as too risky for Sir Alex, who does not have the luxury of a tough tackling defensive midfielder to compensate for their forays further forward. Therefore, greater ball retention and offensive output is being sacrificed for defensive solidarity. Also, when United come up against sides with a large height advantage, Sir Alex has been inclined to pick a third centre back on the right rather than have two short full backs in Evra and Rafael, but his decision to let Fabio go on loan and the return of Nemanja Vidic may see Jonny Evans play some games at left back this season, opening the door to a possible back line of Rafael, Rio, Vidic, Evans rather than Smalling, Evans, Rio, Evra.
“Rafael has all the attributes to become one of the best full-backs in the world.” Sir Alex
Two other factors which will also contribute to Rafael da Silva’s game time this season are our right wingers and formation. Personally, I believe that United’s new #7, Antonio Valencia compliments Rafael, and Chris Smalling compliments Nani, as whereas the Ecuadorian winger enjoys support offensively and is prepared to cover defensively for his full back, Nani does not need the help of his right back and is poor tracking back if they are out of position. Therefore, the fact that Sir Alex has given Valencia the #7 suggests that he sees him as his first choice right midfielder which bodes well for the Brazilian.
Similarly, the use of the two attacking full backs in a 4-4-2 formation proved risky at the start of last season. If the arrival of Kagawa signals our intent to switch to 4-2-3-1, with the possible incoming of another defensive midfielder this transfer window (Moutinho), then we may see our full backs take a more prominent role in attacking positions.
If United make this change (and the medical staff can keep him fit) then we will have one of the most promising attacking full backs in the Premier League. Commonly, Kyle Walker was described as the best right back in the league last year and was unlucky to pick up an injury in the latter weeks that robbed him of a place in the European Championship. Similarly, Sagna has widely been recognised as one of the most consistently brilliant full backs in the Premier League over recent seasons and was also cruelly robbed of his place at Euro 2012 with a broken leg.
However, despite playing in equally exuberant, attacking sides, neither of these players were able to match Rafael’s passing accuracy last season in the final third where their contributions can be so helpful. In fact, Rafael’s precision in and around the opposition box shows his proficiency with the ball and highlights how it is mainly his offensive running without the ball which gets him caught out of position. Something which will improve with experience.
Equally, Rafael was the most productive of the three last season by all attacking counts (chances creates, cross success rate and assists). In fact, his assist frequency was so impressive, it put him 14th in the Premier League last season (Valencia and Giggs were 1st and 2nd) with a better minutes per assist ratio than Arshavin (240), Nasri (251), Ben Arfa (311) and Lennon (316).
Therefore, it is time that the 21 year old was given an extended run in the side to show everyone that he is ready to step up both domestically and internationally, as he looks to nail down a place both for United and Brazil. In fact, if Rafael is able to put in a strong performance for Brazil in the Olympics and they are able to win the gold medal, then the odds of him starting in his home World Cup in 2014 will be cut dramatically as it is a competition which they take extremely seriously and is one which greatly influences the future composition of their teams.
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If Rafael is able to make the right back role his own this season, it would be nice to see him have the confidence to replicate Antonio Valencia and go ask Sir Alex Ferguson for the #2 shirt and show the world that he is ready to step up and shoulder all the responsibility that starting week in, week out for United carries.
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Comments are welcomed below and on Twitter. The statistics were provided with permission by Fantasy Football Scout.