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Rafael not giving up hope; but where will he fit?

First team opportunities have bypassed Rafael da Silva in recent seasons. A combination of injuries, suspension and poor form have haunted the young Brazilian throughout his Manchester United career but never seemed to deter him. Things seem to have taken a worse turn under Louis van Gaal, both Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have played there ahead of him regularly, and Paddy McNair also took preference during the course of this season. But suddenly there is a new-found optimism surrounding his place in the starting XI, but where will he fit?

Speaking to the official Manchester United website after his return from injury – albeit a very short cameo against Spurs – Rafael puts on a defiant front regarding his future at the club.

“It was very good for me and it was also very important for me, to come into the game and play for the first-team again.

I just want to be involved now. Of course, it was good to play. Training has been fantastic as well. Now I just want to be involved with the team and if I get a chance, then I want to play well.”

It certainly seems that the full-back is keen to stick around, but the question is where? Where can he be utilised and slot in seamlessly? Antonio Valencia has been a sturdy stand-in and provided a consistent option, but his mistake against Arsenal was unforgivable, the shoddy nature of his back pass and the potential he brings going forward can’t really be ignored. Replacing him is the natural option going forward, and is the destination most likely. However, it is not the only possible position Rafael can play.

With Luke Shaw unfit, and Daley Blind not a natural left-back, Rafael has played there before and could well be the plug for that hole until Shaw pulls his weight and reaches the necessary level to succeed. A right footed left-back isn’t unheard of, Dennis Irwin is the poster boy in United’s history and the case that it can work. Also his tenacity down that side could work well if Ashley Young continues to impress. The interchange between them would be an interesting proposition. Young is a capable defender in the same way Rafael is in attack, and both offer a different threat.

Then there is the potential of a midfield role. On the wing is of course somewhere he would excellent, but if memory serves well he has played in the middle of the park before and wasn’t completely incompetent.

The other positions are merely points for discussion – potential areas he could make an impact when he reaches full fitness. Right-back is exactly where he should play, and as soon as he reaches 100% again. Antonio Valencia has been consistent, though the fact he isn’t a right-back and has made mistakes makes it painfully obvious it’s the right thing to do is to play Rafael. His tenacity and new control over his aggression could be exactly what the defence needs, what the team needs in fact, during the challenging run ahead. The player hasn’t given up hope, and neither should anyone else in him.

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