Ian Walton/Getty Images
Rafael celebrates his screamer versus QPR.
A product of United's youth system, Rafael da Silva has always been a talented player.
On the defensive side of the ball, that talent has only begun to show recently.
As a Brazilian-bred wing-back, his technical, crossing and shooting ability were qualities that were expected of him as a youngster. (Other prominent players with similar attributes are Dani Alves and Marcelo.)
His defensive play, however, was not always so strong, as he lacked the physical strength and overall composure to be a reliable first-team option at United.
That has all changed with his current revelation of a season.
Contrary to United's aging and underperforming defense, Rafael's individual level of play has skyrocketed.
The Brazilian has been able to display a combination of physicality and speed that the trio of Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand (all at least 31) are starting to lose, occasionally covering up their mistakes with these attributes.
And with three goals and assists in EPL play, it is obvious that Rafael has added strong defensive play to his repertoire without completely abandoning his offensive talents.
That should make the 22-year-old, who has yet to meet his full potential, part of United's plans for the future.