The right back has been missing since the Community Shield match against Wigan in pre-season with a hamstring problem and is only just closing in on a return.
Reports are suggesting United will keep a close eye on the Brazilian’s fitness before David Moyes makes a decision over whether to use him this weekend in the Manchester derby.
Rafael’s absence from the back four has been noticeable with Phil Jones deputising, his brother filling in and Chris Smalling appearing most recently in the Champions League earlier this week.
Considering the magnitude of the Manchester derby and the chance for United to drag themselves back up towards the top of the table, the temptation will definitely be there for the Old Trafford boss.
Rafael is the best right back United have. His pace is useful when he goes forward and he’s improved dramatically in a defensive sense from when he first came into the team as a raw youngster.
The obvious benefit of playing him is having a defender who knows the right back role completely over using someone who is less experienced to patch up that position.
The clear risk is that if he’s not entirely ready to return, any decision to throw him into the side could make any injury he’s carrying worse.
That has the potential to make him unavailable for an even longer period of time, which would maintain United’s current approach of patching up that position until he closes on a return again.
There is also the issue of his match fitness. Even if Rafael is started this weekend, he’ll more than likely have to come off late in the game because he’s not had any competitive first team football this season.
If the derby is on a knife edge, which it most likely will be, then the idea of changing the back four during what could be a crucial stage in the game doesn’t hold much logic.
The most sensible scenario is sticking him on the bench if is fit enough that Moyes feels he can be included in the match day squad.
He’s simply far too important for United to start taking risks with him, toying with his physical state for the sake of one big match.
What do you think? Should Moyes risk him if he passes fitness tests?
image: © Andrea Sartorari