Rafael close to Manchester United return after shoulder injury

Manchester United defender Rafael and Manchester City winger Adam Johnson
Rafael has managed just 18 minutes for United this season

Defender Rafael could return from three months out with a shoulder problem when Manchester United's reserves face Everton on Thursday.

The Brazilian, 21, needed surgery on his shoulder in August.

His return would be a significant boost for Ferguson after Chris Smalling was ruled out for a month with a fractured foot.

Ferguson said: "It was a big operation and we hope we can fit a game in for him, maybe the next reserve game."

Rafael's only previous appearance this season was for 18 minutes as a substitute in the 3-2 Community Shield victory over Manchester City in August.

The United manager added: "Rafael has been training for over a week. He is coming along fine, there has been no setback and he has been training every day."

Rafael joined United from Fluminese in 2008, along with his twin brother Fabio, and he has made 72 appearances for the Old Trafford club.

Fabio moved ahead of him in Ferguson's pecking order in the final weeks of last season and Rafael was not included in United's 18-man squad for the 3-1 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in May.

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