The chance seemed lost, van Persie’s shot was saved well by Julio Cesar. The ball bounced off the difficult surface, suddenly Rafael was on to it in a flash, hitting the ball with as clean of a volley as you will ever see. The ball swerved into the top left corner, leaving Julio Cesar rooted to his spot before he could even react. The strike clocked at 62 mph and from about 27 yards; an absolute stunner.
This was his 3rd goal of the season. The first one came against Fulham at home via a powerful header and the other – a sublime left-footed curler – at Anfield. This right-footed screamer was even better. If all this came in the same match, it would’ve been a perfect hat-trick; left-foot, right-foot, header. His season is not only about goals too, he also has 3 assists to his name, and one of those came against City for Wayne Rooney’s 2nd goal in the Manchester Derby.
All of this may be encouraging, but Rafael was always known for his rashness in defending. But over the past season, he has started to erase that rashness and he said himself that ‘he’s matured into a man’. Shortly after scoring the goal, QPR’s Chris Samba headed in from a corner only for him to see his effort cleared off the line by Rafael. Right away, it developed into a United counter-attack and Rafael made a beautiful lobbed cross-field ball over the head of Samba into the path of van Persie, and his effort only to be denied by Julio Cesar.
There was of course, flashes of the old Rafa in the games against Reading and Madrid. He was subbed off at Reading just before half-time and he had trouble marking Madrid’s left-hand side during the 1st half. United’s collapse against Everton back in April saw him lose his place in the side. His defensive lapses during that game that allowed Pienaar the equalizing goal may have costed United the title last season. But the recovery he made after that setback was resembled by his recovery against Madrid in the 2nd half. He composed himself and despite getting booked in the 1st half, he didn’t get sent off.
An extended run in the side – due to injuries to Phil Jones and Chris Smalling that may have taken his place on ocassions – since the beginning of the side saw him grow in confidence. Man of the match performances were displayed in the games against Everton (home), Liverpool (away), and this QPR match as well. He, along with Patrice Evra has arguably been contributing more than United’s wingers and they surely are contenders for United’s best players of the season behind Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick.
Rafael’s twin brother Fabio, on loan from United to QPR was unavailable for selection due to the rules of the Premier League. He may have played in the Champions League final in Rafael’s favored spot on the right-hand side of defence two years ago, however it was the latter who grabbed the headlines with an absolutely brilliant strike that typified his storming season.