Manchester United right-back Rafael has returned to action following a month on the sidelines with a fractured cheekbone and is now playing for his Old Trafford future.
This is according to the Daily Star, who understand that United boss Louis van Gaal is eyeing Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne and Everton’s Seamus Coleman as potential replacements for the Brazilian.
Rafael played the full 90 minutes as Manchester United’s development side lost 2-1 to Fulham at Leigh Sports Village on Monday night.
Valencia has impressed in Rafael's absence
The 24-year-old will not be involved in this evening’s FA Cup fourth round replay against Cambridge United, but could feature against West Ham at Upton Park on Sunday afternoon.
Rafael sustained his cheekbone injury against Yeovil Town during last month’s FA Cup third round tie. Antonio Valencia has filled in for the Brazilian over and recent weeks and impressed, receiving a nomination for the club’s January Player of the Month award in the process.
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Rafael subsequently faces a battle to win back his first-team place. Only then will he have the chance to convince Van Gaal that Manchester United already have a first-class right-back in their ranks.
Rafael has regressed since 2013
The one-time Brazil international has regressed since the 2012-13 campaign - his best season since joining Manchester United alongside twin brother Fabio in 2008 - and must prove to his manager that he possesses the temperament and professionalism to fit the current system at Old Trafford.
Rafael has a reputation as being a player who tends to make rash decisions on the pitch. Hot-headed is the term often used to describe the former Fluminense starlet.
Both Clyne and Coleman have been more impressive - in terms of their overall effectiveness and discipline - in the Premier League over the past 18 months than Rafael, who remains a popular figure at Manchester United.
Can he convince Van Gaal?
When on top of his game there are few better right-backs in European football, let alone the Premier League. But Rafael must reproduce the same consistent performers which helped Manchester United lift their 20th league title in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge at Old Trafford.
Only then will Van Gaal decide against replacing the South American this summer.