Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Murphy’s Law has certainly been true as far as Manchester United have been concerned this season. They might be miles away from the top of the Premier League table, but there is one table in which the Red Devils currently occupy top spot in the League. And that is the table of the clubs with the most injured players.
David De Gea’s dislocated finger during Spain’s training session meant that the Red Devils moved level with Newcastle United on 10 first-team players currently out injured. While some of it can be attributed to sheer bad luck, there is no denying the fact that there is a injury cloud looming large in the background of the club. And whether by design or not, it is always the defenders who pick up most of the injuries. Already this season, United have had to rely on teenagers and midfielders to fill in at central defense, which will certainly be a worry for Van Gaal.
One player, who has been on the treatment table for a lot longer than he would have wanted over the past couple of seasons has been Rafael. The 24-year-old right back has time and again got injured at precisely the wrong time for both him and the club. And after his wonderful performance against Chelsea, a muscular injury in training has meant that the Brazilian has been unavailable for the past few weeks and is a doubt for the game against the Gunners on 22nd December.
That has hit the club very hard, due to the lack of options at right back. While the club boasts of Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind as players who can fill in at left back, on the right side, the Brazilian is the only recognized full back in the first-team. While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling used to fill in for the 24-year-old in the recent past, the loss of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand has meant that the duo have, in effect, become one of the club’s first-choice centre backs.
In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be a problem but consistent injuries to both players have meant that there is no real replacement for Rafael. Which, given the Brazilian’s injury record over the past 18 months leaves the club with Antonio Valencia as the only other option at right back. While the Ecuadorian winger can certainly do a job there, his lack of defensive discipline means that the Red Devils are often found wanting on the right hand side of defense. Valencia is mixed bag. Except for some occasional good displays, he doesn’t gives u much in both attacking and defensive sense.
So, does this mean that Van Gaal should once again go and splash the cash on another young full back? Will throwing money at it, solve the problem? Unfortunately for the Dutchman, that is unlikely to be the solution as top quality right backs are as common as away wins in the League this season.
The Red Devils can either sign a player for the short-term or invest more on a young player with plenty of potential. If it is the former, then Dani Alves, who was mentioned as a possible transfer to United would certainly represent a coup. The 31-year-old whose contract runs out next summer would be the perfect short-term solution, should the club decide to pursue that option.
On the other hand, given Van Gaal’s preference for youth, the club could do a lot worse than give Marnick Vermijl a chance. The 22-year-old Belgian who spent last season on loan in the Netherlands will be hoping to finally get the chance that his performances have deserved.
Whatever happens, the club will do well to address the reason for Rafael’s injury and nurse him back properly rather than replace him completely. For at 24, the Brazilian is still young enough to develop into a world-class full back, of which he has already shown plenty of signs.
The game against Chelsea showed that he has outgrown his bouts of impetuousness and recklessness. Although he was yellow carded very early in the game, the right back still stayed calm and kept Eden Hazard in check for most of the game. While it was a surprise to not see Rafael sent off for a silly challenge, which he would have made in the past, there was no surprise in the fact that he kept Hazard quiet.
Over the past few seasons, the Brazilian has been one of the best in the world, when it comes to one-on-one defending and has kept the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Arjen Robben quiet. Although he always the pace, aggression and the ability to help out in attack, his penchant for making silly challenges meant that he couldn’t be trusted to last the 90 minutes.
Already this season, he has shown a much more mature side to his game and has lifted the team both offensively and defensively every time he has played. And that is precisely what makes him a valuable asset to the side, if he can stay fit. And while that is a big if, given his recent injury record, he is still a match for the best in the world, when he is fit, and that is why the club should persist with the Brazilian, instead of splashing the cash yet again.