Despite many claiming this current United team isn’t as good as previous ones we can always point to our defence as the foundation of our success.
With Edwin Van der sar enjoying the twilight of his career and the formidable partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at the heart of defence we rarely go far wrong. Throw in the flying Frenchman Patrice Evra on the left and you could argue that our backline remains the best in the world. One question mark persists though, how do you solve a problem like the right-back?
We started off the season with five players who can play right-back. But Gary Neville was never going to play many games, 3 in fact. The United legend called time on his illustrious career at the turn of the year as he saw his time was up. He felt his job was done and there was a ready-made replacement – Rafael.
Speaking after his retirement, Neville said: “You can now say we’ve got a first-choice back-four for the first time in a few years.”
“Rafael’s always had ability. He gets to the ball quickly, he is aggressive, he defends his position well, he is tough, courageous, good on the ball, he gets forward well and provides energy in attack.”
He added: “But he has really developed in the last six months with games and experience.
“He has also got a great attitude. He is more than capable of going on to become United’s right-back for many years.”
It takes Neville back to when he was a younger member of the United squad, making his own way forward in a dressing room containing the likes of Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona.
“I remember when I was young defender you need that time to mature and get experience,” he said.
“We haven’t had a consistent right-back in the last couple of years. I have been around. Wes Brown and John O’Shea have played some games as well as Rafael, but in the last four or five months we’ve had a consistent performer in that position.”
One who Neville failed to mention was Rafael’s twin Fabio. The Brazilian has taken his recent foray into the first-team by the scruff of the neck and has been favoured by Ferguson in key games against Schalke, Chelsea and Arsenal of late while the more experienced Wes Brown and John O’Shea have had to make do with lesser roles.
United fans have been impressed with the mature performances from Fabio as many assumed he was Evra’s understudy at left-back, many have claimed they prefer Fabio to Rafael as he is a lot calmer, more assured and a more competent defender than his brother.
So will Fergie stick with Fabio, reinstate Rafael for the crunch game at Wembley or will he go for the tried and trusted type of John O’Shea or Wes Brown?
John O’Shea has actually played the most out of the four contenders (39 appearances) and played in that forgettable night in Rome while the Irishman has also performed to a decent standard this season. O’Shea’s versatility, height and experience will be noted when Fergie chooses who will make the final cut.
It’s been a strange season for the Big, Bad Wesley Brown. Since retiring from international duty after being snubbed for the World Cup he reportedly had a spat with the manager. The argument was over a night out organised by United’s players. Brown is understood to have been told by boss Fergie he could not go – although it is not clear why – leading to the row. The defender, 31, apparently stood his ground and Ferguson was described as ‘incandescent’ as they traded verbal blows.
However, it seemed they had reconciled when Brown captained and scored the only goal in the 1-0 win over Crawley Town in February. Despite this it seems it was too little too late for Wes. Brown would have been my first-choice had he been playing regularly this season as he was instrumental to our success in 2008, supplying the cross to Ronaldo to open the scoring at the Luzhniki. But as he’s been left out a lot this year it would be too much to expect for the fans favourite to slot in against a team of Barcelona’s calibre.
With Rafael and Fabio always tempted to foray forward would O’Shea be the best player to deal with the likes of Messi and Villa? Or will the energy and aggression of the Da Silva twins be what’s needed to stop Barcelona’s onslaught?
Anyway, despite starting the season with five candidates for the right-back position it seems we’re down to three. Rafael, Fabio or O’Shea against Barca? Take your pick and let us know below!