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Why this 22-year-old academy graduate could be the answer to Man United’s need for a centre-half

Axel Tuanzebe (Getty Images)
Axel Tuanzebe (Getty Images)

Can Axel Tuanzebe ease Manchester United’s defensive woes?

Manchester United fans have a new hero after their seemingly impossible victory against Paris St. Germain and that hero goes by the name of Axel Tuanzebe. A display from both, the player and the club ensured that the Red Devils claimed all 3 points at Parc De Princes.

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Axel Tuanzebe rose through the youth ranks of Manchester United. He made his professional debut during the 2016-17 season after impressing for the U-23s. Then he joined Aston Villa on loan in January 2018 but injuries restricted him to just five league appearances in the Championship.

The 22-year-old returned to Villa Park for a second successive loan spell in the summer of 2018. He went on to play a key role as the Midlands outfit secured promotion to the Premier League via the playoffs. Aston Villa wanted to sign him permanently last summer following his promotion heroics but United refused to cash in on him. (h/t Birmingham Live)

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – JULY 13: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, manager of Manchester United acknowledges Axel Tuanzebe at half time during the match between the Perth Glory and Manchester United at Optus Stadium on July 13, 2019 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Despite featuring regularly for United in the pre-season fixtures in 2019, Tuanzebe managed only 10 appearances over the course of an injury-stricken campaign. His last outing came way back in December.

The highly-rated central defender has represented England at the U-21 level. He remains eligible to switch his allegiance to DR Congo – the country of his birth.

Axel Tuanzebe could be the ideal partner for Maguire or Lindelof

When United travelled to Paris, not many gave them a fighting chance despite what they did against PSG last time. This time, they were without the likes of captain Harry Maguire, Mason Greenwood, Eric Bailly and new signing, Edinson Cavani.

Solskjaer was thin on defensive options. He opted for a back three with Tuanzebe and Shaw on either side of Lindelof. The world-class PSG forward line of Mbappe, Neymar and Di Maria were expected to run rampant through them.

Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe (C) vies for the ball with Manchester United’s English defender Axel Tuanzebe (L) during the UEFA Champions League Group H first-leg football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on October 20, 2020. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

Yes, in the end it was a team effort. But one player who shone so much in the game was Axel Tuanzebe. A player playing his first game in 10 months was trusted to face prime forwards like Mbappe and Neymar.

The way the academy graduate responded was sheer class. There aren’t very many defenders who can go toe-to-toe with Kylian Mbappe without making an error. Axel Tuanzebe dealt with the pacy forward like he has been defending at the top level for more than 10 years.

Cool, calm and collected in his approach. His tackles were so perfectly timed that Mbappe often looked at the referee in hope of a decision going in his favor.

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It has been a tough road for the youngster so far and injuries have not helped either. With Manchester United still looking to find the perfect defensive combination, Tuanzebe has just thrown his hat into the mix for consideration with a top drawer performance against a top opposition.

The club needed a centre-back in the summer but failed to get one. However, the club can now breathe a sigh of relief that one of their own could actually be the solution to their defensive turmoils.

Krzysztof Piatek (Getty Images)

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