Rafael has welcomed the long-awaited return to action of team-mate and friend Darren Fletcher.
The Scottish midfielder's substitute appearance in the second half at Villa Park was his first senior outing since Boxing Day in 2012.
After battling ulcerative colitis, a chronic bowel condition, the 29-year-old has worked his way back to fitness and was available for a place on the bench in United's 3-0 win in the West Midlands.
"It was a special moment for everyone and for Fletch, I was really waiting for him to come back," the Brazilian defender told MUTV. "He's helped me a lot since I arrived at the club, he's one of my biggest friends here. He's such a good player, and a good guy - I'm glad he's back."
"You can see with the way he runs for the other players and the way he played, everyone needs a player like him. He's got his fitness back and has been playing for the reserves, he's been coming back slowly but I hope he can now play as many games as possible."
The win at Villa also featured Danny Welbeck playing as a central striker and he scored his first Barclays Premier League goals since the opening day of the season. The first of his efforts followed a fine cross from Rafael that Adnan Januzaj headed against the post before Welbeck pounced on the rebound.