Regular readers of Stretford End Arising match previews will know the right back spot is often a cause for discussion. For years and years Gary Neville has owned the right back spot. In recent years however he has struggled with injuries allowing others an opportunity to stake a claim. Unfortunately his time as a Manchester United player is nearing an end. I’m not writing Neville off completely, but he is unlikely to feature on a weekly basis.
With several defenders struggling with injuries last season (Wes Brown, Gary Neville and John O’Shea) Rafael was perhaps thrown in at the deep end. Against Bayern Munich we saw the good and bad of the young Brazilian. Whilst on the pitch he was superb – arguably Man United’s best player. He gave Franck Ribery a torrid time; he was in the Frenchman’s face from the first minute not allowing him to settle on the ball. His inexperience was highlighted by the sending off, perhaps soft but I felt deserved at the time. He can’t go around kicking players.
A further high profile mistake came against Tottenham Hotspur. The game was his first start since the sending off against Bayern after sitting out a handful of games – an obvious test of his mental strength. Rafael will probably blame himself for not remaining on the goal line, which would have allowed him to clear Ledley King’s header. His reaction to Nani’s goal was special, true emotion and passion!
Mistakes apart, his performances bode well for the future. He will surely will learn from his experiences and mature (in terms of football) more quickly and become a better player. Every player makes mistakes but once he irons out the school boy errors he’s going to be a top class player. As the 2009/10 season ended, I was firmly of the opinion Rafael would establish himself as first choice right back for the forthcoming season. His pre-season form however was somewhat iffy – notably struggling against Kansas City Wizards, which is perhaps a reason O’Shea was preferred.
O’Shea enjoyed his first full season in 2002/03, where he excelled at left-back. He bombed forward at every opportunity earning him the chant “When Johnny goes marching down the wing”. He even nutmegged Luis Figo in one instance. Since then, he has failed to cement a place in the starting as he became Mr. Versatility. Having missed the majority of the 2009-10 season due to injury, it came as a surprise O’Shea started the first Premier League game of the season against Newcastle United – him offering additional height in defensive situations is an advantage.
Would be fair to suggest O’Shea has struggled on his return. However, he is returning after a long term injury therefore to be over critical would be harsh in my opinion. With O’Shea struggling, he has perhaps played a factor in the slow start of the season for Antonio Valencia. Valencia is at his best when he plays alongside an attacking full back – dragging away an opposition defender. At the moment, whether due to the injury lay off and O’Shea finding his feet – he seems reluctant (compared to previously) to overlap. Valencia’s ideal partner is Rafael in my opinion.
During the first half against West Ham, O’Shea visible looked lacking in confidence – struggling defensively. His confidence seemed to grow during the second half – he started to overlap on a more frequent basis. Hopefully his second half performance will give him a boost in confidence
Throughout his career Wes Brown has constantly struggled with injuries and is perhaps a reason why he has never fully cemented a place in the first team. His best season came in 2007-08 when he was relatively injury free and was virtually an ever present a right back. Personally, I believe Brown is a better right back than centre back. If not Rafael, Brown is my preferred choice.
This season Brown is gaining fitness by turning out for the reserves in the Manchester Senior Cup featuring against Manchester City and Oldham Athletic.
What do you think? Should Rafael be first choice right back? Is Sir Alex worried about Rafael’s school boy mistakes? What have you made by the start John O’Shea has made to this season? Due to injuries can Brown be relied upon?
If you wish to discuss this issue further with myself or other members of the Stretford End Arising community, you can do so in the Forum