Rafael v Valencia - who is the best option for Manchester United?

When Rafael and Antonio Valencia are both fit, who provides the best option on the right for Manchester United?

With 3-5-2 back in vogue at Manchester United, Louis van Gaal has a number of important decisions to make.

His options have been severely depleted by injury, forcing his hand somewhat, with the option to rotate, rest and recuperate no longer there for the man at the Old Trafford helm.

He will, however, be hoping that a number of those currently spending more time in the treatment room than the training ground will be back in consideration before the hectic festive period pushes a threadbare squad to breaking point.

Among those Van Gaal is looking to call upon in the not too distant future is Rafael, with the Brazilian defender being eased through a muscular problem suffered prior to United’s Manchester derby defeat to arch-rivals City.

He revealed during the recent international break that he had returned to training, but he was still unavailable for Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Arsenal.

His versatility could come in handy, with the likes of Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans all sidelined at present, but there is a case for arguing that he may struggle to secure the starting berth he feels most comfortable in even when fully fit.

Rafael is, by trade, an attacking right-back – one good enough to have made over 160 senior appearances for the Red Devils.

His absence has, however, opened the door again to Antonio Valencia, one of the most consistent and reliable performers in the Premier League.

The Ecuador international has been letting no-one down of late, as he operates on the right of the back four or as a wing-back, and his numbers suggest that Van Gaal would be well advised to keep throwing a shirt in his direction and resist the urge to hand an immediate recall to Rafael.

  Total TackleTotal CrossOutfielder BlockInterceptionTotal ClearanceTotal ContestAppearancesMins Played
Antonio Valencia 33 24 1 18 12 8 8 568
Rafael 16 23 2 17 28 13 6 517

Given that there are only 50 Premier League minutes between the pair this season, it is easy to draw comparisons between the two.

It is also clear that Valencia, a man signed by United as a winger, has been offering more on the defensive side of things.

He has put in twice as many tackles and made more interceptions, freeing him to start countering down the flanks.

Valencia has also delivered one more cross, despite taking on fewer attempted dribbles, suggesting that he is also capable of providing a better end product in the final third - with the effort which forced Kieran Gibbs to put through his own net at Emirates Stadium over the weekend a case in point.

His seemingly endless supply of energy and willingness to put his body on the line for the good of the collective cause also make him a useful asset to Van Gaal as he seeks to strike the right balance in a system which can tip too far in an attacking direction if square pegs are forced into round holes.

Rafael, of course, has done little wrong and remains a firm fans’ favourite, but it could be that he has to make do with a spot of bench duty upon his return to the fold as he seeks to dislodge a rival who arguably brings more to the table when filling a role which requires a telling contribution to be made at both ends of the field.

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