United's Rafael: I read Valencia's mind on pitch
Published 22:30 17/04/12 By David McDonnell
Rafael Da Silva is relishing the chance to build a long-term partnership with Antonio Valencia on the right for Manchester United.
The South American duo have built up an understanding that may one day rival that of Gary Neville and David Beckham in their United pomp.
And Brazilian Rafael reckons his close bond with Ecuador international Valencia off the field has enabled the pair to translate that friendship into an effective partnership on it.
"To be honest, I think it's well recognised by everybody that Antonio has been one of my best friends at the club," said Rafael.
"That's not to disrespect anyone, but I think we've created a very good understanding on the pitch.
"I can feel what he wants to do and vice-versa, and that's probably the reason why we have so much understanding on the pitch.
"I think it's quite difficult to define Antonio's qualities on the pitch. He's quite fast and direct. He looks for the ball all the time. If I go forward, he covers me at the back and vice-versa.
"It's easy to work with him and, when I see him on the pitch, it leaves me more relaxed due to the understanding we have on the field."
Rafael missed the defeat at Wigan a week ago, but returned against Aston Villa on Sunday and has established himself as United's first-choice right-back, when fit.
He earned a reputation as an impetous defender, his dismissal in the Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich in 2010 costing United a semi-final place.
But the 21-year-old has cut a more mature, disciplined figure this season and put his improved discipline down to playing more regularly and learning from his mistakes.
"Of course, in a league like the Premier League, it's important I play as many matches as possible," said Rafael stated.
"Although I wanted to play more, every match I play in I am keen to play even better.
"A player wants to play as many matches as possible and I want to play even more.
"I think the reason [behind his improved form] is I'm probably getting a bit older and more mature. I see things in a different perspective. My aim is always to help the team, especially this season, to achieve the title we are after.
"So it's probably due to being a bit more mature. Having been part of the last three seasons when we were twice champions and once not, I know what to expect in the last few matches.
"The experience I've acquired in the past will help me to deal with these last few games until the end of the league.
"It helps us to deal better with the wins, losses and any disappointments."