I engaged in a debate last night with one of my fellow writers on twitter, not a heated argument, more an exhange of differing opinions akin to two vicars disagreeing over the best way to run the village fete. Our debate revolved around the subject of United’s best option at right back and the reason we didn’t end up threatening each other and arranging a fight outside the Bishop’s -other than we’re not complete bell ends, was because there really is no clear cut choice at the moment.
Despite my preference for Chris Smalling in the role, I couldn’t disagree too much when it was argued that Rafael Da Silva is the better option. All this got me thinking ‘who actually should be United’s right back next season?’ I realise players will be rotated but there has to be either a semi-regular option, or perhaps more importantly, one who stands out above the rest for the most important fixtures.
In an effort to help make an informed judgement on which player will be filling the vacancy, which hasn’t been properly dealt with since Wes Brown’s glorious 2007/08 season.
Here’s the three main candidates and arguments for and against them becoming the Reds traditional number two.
Rafael Da Silva
It’s hard to believe that despite having been in and out of the first team for nearly four seasons and approaching 100 appearances, the young Brazilian is still only 21 years-old a relatively young age for a defender at the top level of the game. Rafael is arguably one of the most exciting full backs on the planet, it seems there’s always something happening whenever he’s involved, be it last-ditch gung-ho tackles, heated arguments, yellow and red cards, goals, assists and maybe even the stretcher. Rafael reminds me of Gabriel Heinze in the way he always seems to be playing on the very edge of the game, only an inch away from either winning or costing the Reds the match.
For every high -the strike against Arsenal, putting Carlos Tevez in his place- there seems to be almost as many lows, the sending off against Bayern, the substitutions which at one point seemed oblgatory. There’s no denying Rafael’s talent though and with four assists in ten Premier League starts this season, his usefulness, particularly in going forward is beyond reproach. The only question marks somewhat paradoxically surround the very traits that make him a good player- his fearlessness and energy, that need to be properly channelled.
Valencia and Rafael link up well and there’s a strong case to be made that due to Tony V’s ability to track back, the Brazilian can afford to get forward more and use his zeal to the effect he has done, without the usual concerns of leaving us too exposed. It’s also worth noting that despite his reputation for selom finishing a game, this season in 16 starts and one early substiute appearance he’s failed to complete the full ninety only five times, all of them substitutions and several of them tactical.
Rafael still needs to curb his enthusiasm- sorry – somewhat – and there’s definite room for improvement in the timing of his tackles but this season has seen the young hot-head display a tad more maturity than the previous campaign, if he can continue in this vein perhaps he could finally make the position his own.
The phenomenal rise of Smalling from non-league to Champions League in barely two seasons, was real Roy of the Rovers stuff but while the former Fulham man suprised practically every Red last season with his seemingly painless transistion, this season hasn’t been all plain sailing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Smalling hasn’t played well, in fact I’d argue the exact opposite he’s often been superb, it’s just the amount of injuries he’s suffered have prevented him from having a consistent run in the side. Although Smalling’s already accumolated more games this season than he did last, with the departure of John O’Shea and Wes Brown- not to mention Gary Neville’s retirement and Nemanja Vidic’s long-term injury, many would’ve expected him to be a mainstay of the side.
Smalling often seems supremely confident in possession and for me is the most naturally gifted defender at the club- cue lots of Jonny Evans fanboys arguing I’ve lost the plot- it’s just time for him to make the slight step up in class and perform a) more consistenty and b) with more aplomb going forward. One goal and no assists in the 17 Premier League appearances doesn’t show the same willingness of Rafael or even Phil Jones to support the right winger.
Smalling may actually be better suited to a central role, but with Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand making that partnership their own and Vidic returning next season, he may find his best chance of regular football lies in the right back position.
If ever a player epitomised Manchester United’s season it’s surely the former Blackburn man, at times he looks colossal -so much so that he’s been compared to Old Trafford royalty Duncan Edwards, something I cannot recall being afforded anyone in the three decades I’ve followed the Reds. Then there’s the times when Jones has looked, well a little bit lost to be perfectly honest, none more so than against Basle at Old Trafford where he seemed almost David May-esque in his ineptitude, admittedly not aided by one of Rio’s worst showings ever in a Red shirt.
Jones has always looked like a central midfield candidate for me, yet the clamour to see him at right back reached even England level. There’s times, particularly earlier in the season when he seemed capable of playing anywhere, but the main flaw to his game seems to be his sense of positioning which can be cruelly exposed at times in defence. Jones isnt afraid of getting forward, and is quicker than his frame would suggest, there’s just the doubts as to how confident he really is in the right back role. Jones’s strength and power at such a young age mean that he could become one of the best enforcers we’ve ever seen at Old Trafford, it’s just debatable as to whether it would be a waste of his talents, putting him in a position he may not really revel in.
Looking at the three main candidates, it seems my side of the argument on twitter last night may have been slightly flawed and it could well be Rafael who represents the best option at right back, although if Smalling was fully fit and it was a must-win game, I’d still lean towards the more reliable Englishman. Phil Jones on the other hand, has a big United future, but at right back it ain’t.
Which one of the trio do you feel should be United’s right back or is it a case of rotation? Feel free to comment suggest and abuse below:
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