Few will be surprised by reports in today’s Sun newspaper that Manchester United trio Anderson, Nani and Ashley Young are playing for their Old Trafford careers after indifferent 2012/13 campaigns from the three were compounded by disappointing starts to this season by all of them.
However, the inclusion of Rafael in a list of possible departures is baffling considering the right-back’s excellent contribution to United’s Premier League-winning cause last term.
They can be backed at an eyebrow-raising 10/1 to be top of the pile in May for the third time in four years.
The 23-year-old came of age at Old Trafford last season and ended 2012/13 as undisputed first-choice right-back.
Rafael’s busiest Premier League campaigns before last term saw the full-back appear 16 times in the top flight (in 2008/9 and 2010/11), but in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last, title-winning season in the north west the former Fluminense youth played 28 games and came on as a substitute in just one of those.
United kept clean sheets in a third of the matches Rafael started and he chipped in with three assists over the campaign and three goals – including a 20-yard screamer that broke the deadlock in his team’s 2-0 win at QPR.
United have not lost a game the Brazilian has featured in this season.
Injury disrupted Rafael’s start to 2013/14 after 16 minutes of the champions’ 2-0 Community Shield win against Wigan and he had to watch from the sidelines as United lost consecutive Premier League away matches against bitter rivals Liverpool and Man City during the six-game spell he was out.
Since his return Moyes’ men have been defeated just once and Rafael did not feature in that home reverse against West Brom, but played from the start in the recent wins over Norwich, Real Sociedad, Sunderland and Liverpool.
In four Premier League and Champions League appearances this term the full-back has averaged eight defensive actions plus one key pass per game.
Rafael is committed to the Red Devils cause and poured cold water over recent suggestions he could return to Brazil.
Corinthians were recently linked with a January move for the defender, with reports suggesting a move to Brazil would boost Rafael’s chances of making the Selecao squad for next summer’s World Cup, but the player quashed such rumours and pointed to his form last season as a reason to stay with the Premier League title holders.
His twin brother Fabio and 20-year-old Uruguayan summer signing Guillermo Varela – who has made one appearance at club level in his career – are the only other specialist right-backs available to Moyes and while he could play centre-halves Chris Smalling or Phil Jones in the position, the Scot should really follow his predecessor’s example and stick with Fergie’s pick.