Rafael a revelation in helping Manchester United through defensive crisis
Tuesday 23 October 2012
Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to rest Rio Ferdinand for tonight's game with Braga means Manchester United may be forced to field Michael Carrick as a central defender or give Scott Wootton a full Champions League debut.
The 21-year-old, who joined United from the Liverpool academy, came on as a second-half substitute for Jonny Evans in the 2-1 win over Cluj. He played the full 90 minutes of the League Cup victory over Newcastle earlier in the month.
Ferguson said the central defensive crisis that has afflicted Manchester United for the first two months of the campaign may be about to ease. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, defenders who cost United £28m, have not played all season because of injury. Both, said Ferguson, are "two to three weeks away" from returning.
Smalling, who missed United's entire pre-season programme because of a broken metatarsal, has begun non-contact training while Jones, forced to return from a friendly in Scandinavia in July with back spasms, will resume football training on Monday.
United will, however, play Shinji Kagawa tonight, having rested him on Saturday because in Ferguson's words, "Stoke are the kind of team he would never have encountered before." He may find Braga's style more to his liking. So, too, may attack-minded Rafael, who has impressed Ferguson during United's defensive injury crisis.
"He is maturing and learning all the time," said the manager of his full-back. "Rafael has all the ingredients of a great player. He was quite impulsive and tended to overcommit himself. We have gone over it a few times but, bit by bit, it is coming together and he was easily our best player Saturday."
Rafael's growing maturity shines through in the manner in which he accepts Ferguson's criticism. While there are still issues to be resolved, he feels people are starting to assess him in a slightly different manner as he tries to establish himself for Brazil, too.
"I think they look at me differently now," Rafael said. "The way I play for United has changed a little bit and I have scored some goals as well. But mature is the word. I always want the ball. Now I read the game more and know what the opposing player is going to do."
The 22-year-old added: "It is a big time for me. The World Cup is the big competition for Brazil and all the fans expect us to win. I am really looking forward to being there."
Man Utd: LINDEGAARD, RAFAEL, CARRICK, EVANS, BUTTNER, VALENCIA, CLEVERLEY, ANDERSON, KAGAWA, ROONEY, VAN PERSIE
Braga: BETO, ELDERSON, VINICIUS, NUNO COELHO, SALINO, VIANA, MOSSORO, CUSTODIO, BARBOSA, EDER, ALAN
Kick-off 7.45pm, Old Trafford (ITV 1) Referee M Mazic (Serbia) Odds: Man Utd 1-3 Draw 17-4 Braga 8-1
Latest in Sport
England vs Lithuania: Wayne Rooney rules out repeat of boxing celebration after son Kai repeats it at school and focuses on goalscoring record
Marco Reus becomes Arsenal transfer target to replace Theo Walcott
Paul Scholes: It's amazing Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick has so few caps for England
New kits for 2015/16: Have the Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Barcelona strips been leaked?
Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao: Zab Judah denies flooring Mayweather during sparring as he prepares for 2 May
- 1 Germanwings crash: Police make 'significant discovery' at home of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz
- 2 Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
- 3 Zayn Malik already working on solo material, just days after quitting One Direction
- 4 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 5 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Andreas Guenter Lubitz intentionally crashed flight 9525 into the Alps in act of mass murder and suicide – latest