Discussing Rafael’s situation at Manchester United and how it relates to Juan Cuadrado 0

Supposedly, Louis Van Gaal has now made a decision on which Manchester United players can leave the club; The Mail reports this morning that Wilfried Zaha, Anderson, Javier Hernandez, Will Keane, Marouane Fellaini, Nani and Rafael are all surplus to requirements.

Rafael’s inclusion on that list may seem surprising, but actually it might be confirmation of something that we already knew: he’s not quite good enough to play at the very top of the game.  When a young player is installed in a starting line-up, it becomes very easy to ignore the pace of his development.  In the early days his imperfections are tolerated and his naivety is overlooked on the basis of what the future holds, but Rafael has reached a point at twenty-four where his progress looks questionable.

On his arrival, Van Gaal immediately installed a 3-5-2 system.  It’s generally assumed that pure full-backs can always convert to being wing-backs, but in reality the two positions require slightly different attributes.  The offensive demands are very similar, definitely, but the wing-back position does demand a higher level of defensive competence and a heightened ability to read the game.  Rafael really isn’t that player; he’s very capable when he crosses the halfway line, but he’s defensively vulnerable and that’s a problem that would only be magnified by the removal from the formation of the wide-midfielder he’s used to playing behind.

At a guess, one of the reasons we don’t see the 3-5-2 formation that much is because modern full-backs aren’t that comfortable within it and they lack the defensive ability to cover the big spaces the system invariably creates.  Rafael, unfortunately for him, fits that attack-focused mould and would probably look incredibly exposed in Van Gaal’s system.

So what next?  If the story is true and United are really about to ditch the Brazilian, then they are short of a viable right-sided wing-back.  Antonio Valencia has the athletic ability to play the role but not the nous, and neither Chris Smalling nor Phil Jones would fit the position at all.  At a guess, this is the clearest sign yet that the club hold an interest in Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado.  Fueling transfer rumours is not in my nature, but the Colombian seems very well suited to that position - he is not, as is often assumed, just an attacking player and he’s actually very comfortable all the way up and down the right side of the pitch.  He frequently played a more restrained role in Serie A last season and, although his more eye-catching traits are all attack-related, he is a very accomplished defender.

If Rafael leaves, United are going to have to go back into the market - without question - and Cuadrado would probably be their primary target.

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