The da Silva Twins – And What They Bring

Arguably, the da Silva twins played their most important game in last week’s FA Cup QF clash against Arsenal. The boys first enthralled Manchester United fans in their few cameo roles two seasons ago. Much has been spoken of Rafael and Fabio’s attacking flair, energy and defensive resilience and, if you ask me, rightfully so.  

Before I progress, I’d like to bring up the curious case of Patrice Evra. It is common knowledge that he began his career at advanced positions as a winger or striker. Injuries at Nice ensured that Evra had to drop back and cover for the left back position, which he made his own and was rated Ligue2’s best left back. Fast forward nine years, and Patrice is one of the best left backs on earth. As a result of his previous attacking tendencies, Evra is more than competent at keeping the ball and make marauding runs down the left wing, inter-playing with the slightly narrowly positioned winger (Giggs, Park or Nani) with a lethal cross. As a result, Evra brings more to the table than what a usual, otherwise hardworking, overlapping fullback would. My point is that players can be molded in positions that are unnatural to them, and be world class at that. Even the Godlike Scholes once was a striker.

The da Silva twins are extremely gifted on the ball and boy, can they run! Their attacking prowess and vision combined with their tenacious, if improving, defensive abilities make them a versatile duo. Fabio, who is considered the more technically gifted of the two, captained the Brazilian under-17 side as a central midfielder, a role that he has reprised for the reserves. Rafael has featured as a right winger in the past, and showed us his composure at central midfield against Arsenal. Both of them have showed a penchant for goal and have a cracker of a shot. It is very clear that the da Silva twins provide an awful lot of depth in the United attack, even if they are featured as wingbacks.

Gary Neville’s long injury layoffs and subsequent retirement has meant that Rafael has had ample opportunity to prove his worth. The presence of the aforementioned colossal that is Patrice Evra and his equally admirable fitness has limited Fabio’s opportunities at left back. In the future, however, I see no reason why Fabio can’t replace Evra. It is interesting to see how Sir Alex will harness their abilities to the fullest. I have also noticed that Michael Carrick drops back alongside Vidic and Rio/Smalling whenever Rafael has ventured forward, much in the way Busquets performs his role in Barcelona.
In the modern game, it is no secret that the fullbacks are the players who have the most space to take advantage of, by overlapping his wide player. Manchester United’s style of play has always exploited this to the maximum. In my view, Gary Neville has been one of the rather prolific crossers in the English game. It no longer is enough for a fullback to merely mark his opposite winger. In fact, the opposite is now true. Wingers are given the role of marking offensively gifted wingbacks such as Dani Alves. Wingbacks like Dani Alves rely on their positional sense and stamina to overrun the opposition with the space made available by wingers. For all his competence with the ball, Dani Alves was largely ineffectual in last April’s el clasico when he played in the right wing position. Quoting Zonal Marking, “It’s natural to assume that an attacking full-back can slot in fine slightly further up the pitch, but they often encounter problems – they generally have less space and see less of the ball.” Given their attacking panache, Rafael and Fabio haven’t found a problem maneuvering the ball down the flanks, even in advanced positions. It is for that reason that they can play even in the wings, as their style is nothing like that of Alves’ (or Maicon/Cafu/Roberto Carlos for that matter).

With formidable wingers in the form of Valencia and Nani ahead of them, and the requirements of pace, skill and industry, the da Silva twins are the future of Manchester United in the Neville brothers’ mold. Fabio and Rafael epitomize versatility, and they are too talented to be deployed as John “Mr. Versatile” O’Shea. There was some reassurance with the way the twins played in midfield in the absence of most first team wingers. They have repaid the gaffer’s faith in being placed ahead of a real winger in Obertan. The way I see it, we’ll have years and years of – #2 Rafael da Silva; #3 Fabio da Silva.

Writing credits: Ananth Bevinahally – Economics and Math student at Drexel University, writer at Headbangers India, and most of all – Red Devil.