The sale of Rafael during the summer is believed to have been the cause of the row between leading Manchester United squad members and manager Louis van Gaal, with players also angry at the prominence given to video analyst Max Reckers by the Dutchman.
Rafael was sold to Lyon in August after being exiled from the first-team squad during Van Gaal’s debut season at Old Trafford. The Brazilian, who made just 11 appearances in all competitions last season, spent seven successful years with the Premier League club, but was deemed surplus to requirements by Van Gaal and sold for the rather low fee of £2.5m to the French side.
Having seen his place in the first team go to natural winger Antonio Valencia despite starting the season as first choice, Rafael had to make do with a place on the bench from October onwards, with the Brazilian starting just one game during the rest of the season which came in the FA Cup victory over Yeovil in January.
Manchester United vs Liverpool combined XI
Manchester United vs Liverpool combined XI
1/10 GK: David De Gea
He hasn't even played this season, but De Gea goes straight into our side ahead of United team-mate Sergio Romero and Liverpool's Simon Mignolet. With the transfer window closed and his proposed move to Real Madrid over for now, Van Gaal is expected to bring the Spain international back into the fold and there's no question he's the best goalkeeper of the lot.
2/10 RB: Matteo Darmian
Arguably the toughest dilemma of the lot comes at right-back, with Darmian and Nathaniel Clyne both impressing so far this term. The nod goes to the United defender by a whisker based on how quickly the Italian has managed to resolve what has been a problem position for United for some time.
3/10 CB: Chris Smalling
For all the speculation over Manchester United signing a centre-back during the summer, Smalling has shown that the need for reinforcements isn't as great as some feared. The England international has been consistent and appears to be growing in confidence all the time. It means there's no place for Dejan Lovren, who in contrast appears to be regressing from the player Liverpool spent £20m to sign.
4/10 CB: Martin Skrtel
Thankfully for Liverpool, Skrtel has looked good this term, and beats Daley Blind to the other centre-back berth. United's Dutch midfielder/defender/full-back is still new to the central position.
5/10 LB: Luke Shaw
Joe Gomez has made an unexpectedly impressive start to his Anfield career, with the 18-year-old playing in every game since joining from Charlton. But Shaw has begun to show why Manchester United were willing to take such a huge gamble on a teenager, being solid defensively and a threat going forward.
6/10 M: Bastian Schweinsteiger
The World Cup winner is beginning to show why, despite concerns over his fitness, he's been among the best midfielders in Europe over recent years. With Michael Carrick injured, he'll be wanting to impress during a potential run in the starting line-up. He beats Adam Lallana to a place, with the Liverpool midfielder also only starting two games so far this term.
7/10 M: Morgan Schneiderlin
The former Southampton player has impressed in the centre of the park with his passing and ability to disrupt the opposition. James Milner, one of only two Liverpool midfielders to start every match this term is yet to set the world alight following his free transfer from Manchester City.
8/10 M: Memphis Depay
The young Netherlands international looks to be showing more ability and growing in confidence with each match and his recent European double offered a glimpse of the big future the summer signing could have at Old Trafford. It means there is no place for Roberto Firmino, one of Liverpool's big summer signings.
9/10 ST: Wayne Rooney
Rooney is still to score in four Premier League games, but his two-in-two for England and hat-trick in Europe indicates the striker is hitting form. However, he only makes it into the side because Coutinho, who has been Liverpool's best player so far this season, is suspended for Saturday's game.
10/10 ST: Christian Benteke
Joining Rooney in attack is Benteke. With just the one goal to his name the former Aston Villa player hasn't exactly been prolific, but he has been causing opposing defences a headache, particularly in the 0-0 draw with Arsenal. With Daniel Sturridge still out, Benteke will hope to begin writing himself into Anfield folklore with a goal at Old Trafford.
Having made his final appearance for the club in the 3-0 victory over Tottenham in March, Rafael was selected among the substitutes just four times in the remainder of the season, and his failure to appear on the team sheet from mid-April onwards spelled the end to his career in Manchester.
However, the decision to sell Rafael is believed to have angered certain squad members which reportedly led to captain Wayne Rooney and midfielder Michael Carrick approach Van Gaal to try and solve the growing discontent among the dressing room.
Rafael was a popular figure among the United squad, having helped the club to three Premier League title and two Champions League finals in 2009 and 2011.
His exit paved the way for United to make a move for former Torino right-back Matteo Darmian, who has been one of United’s standout summer signings so far this season having taken very little time to adapt to the club. But the departure of Rafael is believed to have been just one example of Van Gaal’s tough stance with players, with goalkeepers David De Gea and Victor Valdes exiled from the squad so far this season while former striker Robin van Persie was sold to Fenerbahce despite United having just two recognised strikers in Rooney and youngster James Wilson.
Rooney and Carrick – United’s captain and vice-captain respectively – are also believed to have voiced concerns regarding the role of video analyst Reckers.
The Dutch analyst has been given a prominence among the United staff after Van Gaal brought him in to highlight strengths and weaknesses of opponents as well as assessing the performances of United’s squad.
Players are said to have grown tired of long video sessions and the emphasis switching to formation and tactics. With a number of Spanish players such as Juan Mata and Ander Herrera in the squad, it’s felt that the flair element developed under Sir Alex Ferguson and, to a lesser degree, David Moyes, has been removed from their training sessions.
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