47.22% Aerial Duels, 1.02 key Passes & 1.08 Chances Created Per 90 Minutes: Why Manchester United Must Rely On This Super Tackler


Watching Manchester United play QPR last week was a treat for the club’s supporters, because it brought fond memories of the years of glory. After a slow start to the season, the fans finally got what they wished to see of the team although it was against a pathetic QPR. Even as United’s much talked about attack still stole the headlines, United’s defense seem to be gradually finding its feet in spite of some glaring mistakes yet again. Against QPR, the return to a 4-man backline saw Rafael and Marcos Rojo deployed in the normal full-back roles rather than the challenging wing-back roles and both did a really good job. The return of Luke Shaw would be beneficial even further, but at the moment one man who is likely to be really important to Manchester United this season is Rafael.

Despite having let go off Rafael’s twin brother Fabio to QPR on loan, Sir Alex Ferguson identified Rafael’s potential and was made an integral part of the side in his final season at Old Trafford. Rafael nailed down the right-back position and made 28 Premier League appearances and put up brave performances at the back and complimented it with 3 goals and 4 assists as well, and in the process stated his claim as one of the Premier League’s best right-backs. But last season, Rafael was plagued by injuries and could only make a mere 19 appearances. Rafael’s intermittent absence was one of the many woes David Moyes faced before eventually being sacked.

This season, Louis Van Gaal would also be looking upto Rafael keenly. Unlike the left-back position, where Van Gaal currently has enough cover, the right-back slot is heavily dependent on Rafael. Having loaned out Guilermo Varela to Real Madrid this term, Rafael remains the only proper right back at Van Gaal’s disposal. Even though Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Antonio Valencia can slot temporarily, none of them even remotely matches the sort of balance between attack and defense that Rafael offers. The tireless runner he is, Rafael can shift between being a resolute marker and a tough tackler to matching the qualities of a world class winger with his quick bursts and crosses through the right.

A detailed comparison between the performances of Rafael and some of the Premier League’s other right-backs- Nathaniel Clyne, Pablo Zabaleta, Seamus Coleman and Glen Johnson- during the 2013/14 season clearly indicates how good Rafael is. In the 19 appearances he made, he averaged the most clearances, blocks and interceptions per 90 minutes among the lot. He made no defensive errors and was second only to Zabaleta (2.69) in tackles won, with 2.36 successful tackles per 90 minutes.


Despite his short stature, Rafael won 47.22% of his aerial duels only bettered by Coleman who won 52% of his aerial duels. On the attacking front, he made 1.02 key passes per 90 minutes and created 1.08 chances per 90 minutes, ahead of Zabaleta and Johnson and marginally bettered by Clyne and Coleman. His quick and menacing breakaways during counters meant he suffered the most fouls among the five as well. In reply to the excuse that he played lesser matches, these stats are still well on par if we consider his performance from the 2012/13 season where he made more appearances. [STATS CREDITS: SQUAWKA]

The above stats clearly highlight Rafael’s merits but at the same time he has areas to improve as well. His recklessness while tackling has often been discussed, as the number of fouls he committed and the times he got booked were considerably high. His heavy tackles have also affected his own fitness with some rash dive-ins causing more harm to himself than the opponents.

And last season, his discipline with the ball was also below par- his pass accuracy last season fell to a not-so-impressive 79%. In addition to these, the major issue he has to get sorted is his fitness. His enthusiasm on the ground is praiseworthy but he needs to take care of his fitness and be able to play more matches on a consistent basis. Van Gaal would be wary of this and would be very cautious with the Brazilian; his early withdrawal against QPR an example.

Given that full-backs have always had a good time under Van Gaal, Rafael might be set for a great season. And more than anyone else, Van Gaal himself would want the little Brazilian to step up and deliver.

Written by Dinesh V

Co-founder of Soccersouls. Living a start-up life 24/7
Follow @dineshintwit

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