Date: 21st January 2011 at 2:00pm
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The defensive resilience shown by in last Sunday’s goalless draw against Spurs should have given answers to a few of those questioning souls wondering how the league leaders have managed to avoid defeat in the Premier League so far this season. Lapses in concentration at the back might have cost United a lot of points earlier on in the campaign but these now appear to have been eradicated.

Having a settled back four certainly helps. Rio Ferdinand has enjoyed a consistent run in the team alongside , putting in several classy performances. Vidic – for whom United fans have an affectionate chant casting certain ironic aspersions of murderous intent against the imposing Serb – certainly killed off enough Spurs attacks on Sunday. If the two tall central defenders are the muscle in the middle of United’s defence, then, and da Silva are the two attack dogs flanking them at full back.

Unfortunately, Rafael took that analogy a bit far at White Hart Lane. First he snapped at the ankles of Wilson Palacios to earn a yellow card after 28 minutes and then he foamed at the mouth when, with the game approaching the final quarter of an hour, the referee Mike Dean adjudged the young Brazilian to have clipped the legs of Benoît Assou-Ekotto and gave him a second booking. Rafael was furious at being sent off as a result of what he perceived as an accidental trip caused by two players crossing paths, but the fury with which he contested the decision to the match official’s face was deeply unedifying.

Another disappointing show of character from Rafael had occurred earlier on, when in the first half he appealed for Palacios to be booked after the Spurs midfielder had exacted revenge on the United player for his earlier tackle. Palacios duly received his caution from Dean but Rio Ferdinand was seen to remind his teammate that the waving of an imaginary yellow card so as to influence the referee’s decision is, in football’s admittedly complex and contradictory moral code, just not the done thing.

Rafael’s dismissal did not stop United from leaving north London with the point they needed to move back to the top of the table, but the misplaced aggression and impetuousness that he showed against Spurs were unfortunate when considered alongside the words of Ferguson before the game.

In praise of his emerging right back, the manager had said: “His form has been absolutely brilliant. He has learned.” On the evidence of Sunday, Rafael might be in need of a few more classes.

To his credit, the 20-year-old had only been booked once this season before the weekend, but his early exit against Spurs brought back memories of his other red card in a United shirt against in the two sides’ quarter-final. Ferguson admitted that Rafael was “quite an impulsive young boy” last season, citing a moment of overexcitement against Milan that cost his side a goal in the away leg and the needless shirt pull that earned the defender a second yellow card against Bayern when United had been on course to win the tie.

As a result of being sent off last Sunday Rafael will miss United’s game against Birmingham on Saturday through suspension. He has also accepted an FA misconduct charge for the manner in which he argued with the referee after being shown his second yellow, as well as for his initial reluctance to leave the pitch and for kicking over a microphone stand when eventually he did so. The player has requested a personal hearing, to be held on Friday, in which he could be banned for a further game – United play Blackpool next Tuesday – or face a fine.

Rafael’s absence will be a blow to United. They have kept seven clean sheets from the nine games in which he has started alongside Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, and Patrice Evra in front of in goal. That statistic points to his defensive qualities but the team will also miss his rambunctious forays forward. Wes Brown and John O’Shea both played for the reserves on Monday and the latter would probably be the favourite to take Rafael’s place against Birmingham, having sadly looked nothing less than a liability on his rare appearances this season. Whoever fills in for Rafael, though, he is currently the team’s first-choice right back and United will want him back as soon as possible. The hope amongst the club’s support is that the Brazilian can address his temperament issues and emerge as the latest in a long line of excellent right-sided defenders to have been produced by his nation of birth, which he certainly has the talent to do.

Follow William Abbs on Twitter.

This piece was taken from our parent site  FootballFanCast.Com -Ed