Manchester United Transfer News: Rafael Proves Red Devils Don't Need Dani Alves

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IOctober 5, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05:  Angel Di Maria of Manchester United celebrates scoring the first goal with Rafael (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on October 5, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Over recent days, transfer speculation linking Louis van Gaal's Manchester United with a move for Barcelona star Dani Alves has grown, with Dave Kidd of the Daily Mirror reporting that the Red Devils will attempt to bring the Brazilian in on a free transfer at the end of the season.

Alves, 31, has been at the top of the game for a decade now and is undoubtedly a fine player. However, before debating whether his current employers would even wish to see him depart given their inability to sign new players in the next two windows, there is a real question as to whether United really need such a player at the current time.

That Van Gaal was willing to let right-back Rafael depart this summer has been widely reported, with Andy Mitten of ESPN FC among those stating that the full-back was told to advise his agent to look for a new club.

However, the young Brazilian has been truly excellent for United over the past fortnight, showing signs of returning to the levels he displayed in the 2012-13 season when he was among the league's best-performing players in his position.

While he admittedly had a nightmare outing on his return against Leicester, albeit largely thanks to a terrible refereeing decision to award a penalty, the former Fluminense player has responded in fine style.

Against West Ham last week, he was voted the club's man of the match for his performance against one of the league's most physical sides, and he was also one of the side's better performers against Everton this Sunday.

It cannot be denied that Rafael was poor under David Moyes last campaign. However, his drop in performance level was far less than several of those around him under the former manager. Mitten also states that he was not one of those who turned on the then under-fire boss.

Often criticised for being impetuous, the statistics tell a different story based on the season thus far. Per WhoScored.com, Rafael has made 11 tackles, 15 interceptions and 20 clearances in his four League games thus far, all for the concession of just two fouls—one of which was the bemusing penalty against Leicester.

Jamie Vardy wins a penalty against Rafael for Leicester
Jamie Vardy wins a penalty against Rafael for LeicesterClive Rose/Getty Images

In attack, meanwhile, United have looked a much more fluid side with him reinstated in place of the often hesitant Antonio Valencia. The Rafael-Ander Herrera axis on the right flank, prior to the Spaniard's injury suffered against West Ham, looked a truly promising partnership for the club.

One of the biggest hindrances to the 24-year-old's career thus far has been injury, and it was another such occurrence that indeed deprived him of the chance to impress Van Gaal during pre-season in the United States. Like the club's other injury-prone defenders, it is a situation that must improve.

Yet when given consistent games under Sir Alex Ferguson, he was able to stay fit for extended periods, and the likelihood is that he is now set for a similarly extended starting run given his form and the lack of viable opposition.

Rafael's runs were important in wins over West Ham and Everton
Rafael's runs were important in wins over West Ham and EvertonJon Super/Associated Press

There are few players in the United squad who attract such criticism when they err, but there are also few who can have such a marked impact on the performance and balance of the side when they are in form. Given that Dani Alves has also had his defensive qualities questioned in the past, would a switch for a man seven years Rafael's senior genuinely improve the side?

There is still plenty the Brazilian can improve, but reports of his decline last season were greatly exaggerated. United have, at times, been accused of lacking leadership, fight and pace recently, yet Rafael offers all three qualities.

A fan favourite, it would be a mistake to consider replacing the Brazilian at this point when attention would be better focused on other areas of the team. Sort out a solid back four that doesn't change on a weekly basis, and United may find their defensive record suddenly takes a dramatic turn for the better.

Having given every member of his squad the chance to make a case for their future role at the club, Van Gaal cannot help but be impressed with Rafael's reaction to what would have been a turbulent and disappointing end to the summer.

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