Last five United matches in which Rafael and Valencia both started:

Wolves (A) 5-0
Fulham (H) 1-0
Blackburn (A) 2-0
QPR (H) 2-0
Aston Villa (H) 4-0

17/04/2012 08:43, Report by Adam Marshall
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Rafael enjoys link-up

Rafael believes his off-field friendship with Antonio Valencia helps the duo shine as a combination on Manchester United's right wing.

The South American pair have been excellent in tandem recently and are building an understanding that may one day rival that of Gary Neville and David Beckham. With Valencia's defensive responsibilities allowing Rafael to bomb forward when the time is right, the Reds are reaping the benefits.

"To be honest, I think it's well recognised by everybody that Antonio has been one of my best friends at the club," Rafael told MUTV in an exclusive interview. "That's not to disrespect anyone but I think we have created a very good understanding on the pitch.

"I can feel what he wants to do and vice versa and that is 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 but returned against Aston Villa and is starting to pin down a regular place in the back four. Sir Alex Ferguson has also praised him for showing signs of maturity in his play.

"Of course in a league like the Premier League, it's important I play as many matches as possible," 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 good form] is I'm probably getting a bit older and more mature. I see things in a

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