Returning Rafael ready to rev up United's title tilt
THE season starts here for Manchester United's Brazilian full-back Rafael.
The 21-year-old has been restricted to just six appearances so far this term after yet more injury problems.
First he dislocated a shoulder during United's pre-season campaign, then he strained his hamstring in the Carling Cup defeat by Crystal Palace.
Finally, Rafael is fit again and eager to make up for lost time. "In many ways it feels like it's only the beginning of the season for me," he said. "I'm just getting started, so I'm really looking forward to playing as many games as possible and, hopefully, helping the team win another Premier League."
Rafael was on the bench on Tuesday as United overcame Stoke to join Manchester City on top of the table. This Sunday promises to be a bit more tricky as a trip to Chelsea has rarely ended productively in recent times.
Although United did win the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final on their last visit, it is 10 years since they last recorded a league triumph at Stamford Bridge. Three points would come in very handy this time around as it would really turn the screw on City.
Roberto Mancini's side felt their major advantage over the second half of the campaign was through having most of their top-of-the-table clashes at home.
And if United can emerge on the Blues' coat-tails from a run of matches that also includes Liverpool and Tottenham, as Alex Ferguson has demanded, Rafael believes greater experience could become a key factor.
"I know everyone says this but I believe our experience will give us the edge," he said. "We've won many titles before and that is so important. Other clubs don't have that advantage.
"Sometimes that comes into play when you lose a game in April or May.
"Your first reaction may be to panic but if you look at people like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, they are always calm. They know how to act -- and know that one bad game doesn't mean it is all over."