Manchester United fielded a much-changed line-up in the Sunday’s high-profile matchup against Arsenal as Jose Mourinho decided to make as many as eight changes to the team which won the first leg of the Europa League semi-final in Vigo.
One of those eight changes to the team stood out however as the teenage captain of Man United’s reserve team – Axel Tuanzebe – was selected at right-back for his senior debut performance in the Premier League.
The 19-year-old was the only odd man out of the selection of renowned internationals Jose Mourinho turned to in order to fight against the tight schedule, which saw Manchester United play ten matches in four and a half weeks.
And much to everyone’s surprise, the teenage defender was one of the brighter sparks in Mourinho’s team as Manchester United succumbed to 2-0 defeat. Tuanzebe stayed focused and composed throughout the match, read the game well and did everything he was instructed to do.
Manchester United academy graduate showed glimpses of great promise and offered an insight into what is likely to become a bright future in the game.
So, who is Axel Tuanzebe?
Tuanzebe was born in the Demoratic Republic of Congo, but the youngster has represented England in U-19 and U-20 selections, making the total of 10 national team appearances thus far.
Originally a central defender, Manchester United teenager has been played around the grid and moved across several positions – like many players of his age however – to aid his development.
Tuanzebe is a player who is comfortable in possession and this midfielder’s trait came to play on several occasions against Arsenal when Manchester United defender used his composure and steadiness to clear the threats coming down Arsenal’s left flank.
Natural speed and agility are another two of his prominent traits which make him appear as a player of greater maturity and experience than what you would naturally expect from a 19-year-old boy who has been thrown in the fire against one of the biggest opponents in the league.
Tasked to keep watch of Arsenal’s biggest threat – Alexis Sanchez – the young Manchester United defender showed discipline, quick feet and level-headedness which earned him praise from his manager in the end.
“The kid did an amazing job”, said Jose Mourinho.
Tuanzebe was also a big aerial presence for Manchester United winning most of his battles and making important tackles and interceptions. He remained focused and dealt with pressure in a straightforward and simple fashion.
His overall appearance was impressive, but he did face some rather big challenges with the mental aspect of the game which only come natural for a debutant and a player of his age. Tuanzebe struggled with decision making on a couple of occasions while chasing elusive Alexis Sanchez. It was a question of when to stick tight to the Chilean and when to give him some room to roam, but Tuanzebe recovered well and learned his way through for an overly impressive performance.
What’s next for Tuanzebe?
The Manchester United teenager will have fond memories of his first-team Premier League debut, despite the defeat. He has every reason to be pleased and to hope for more minutes in the remaining couple of games in the season.
Jose Mourinho is not exactly a manager known for his youth development records, but Manchester United’s busy schedule opens door for Tuanzebe’s hope.
The Portuguese tactician has made his priorities clear as he focuses all the attention to Europa League glory. Manchester United can be found at 4/7 betting odds to lift the Europa League trophy and with the club eyeing the international title instead of the Premier League top-four finish – there lies Tuanzebe’s chance.
The latest Carrington prospect is also another confirmation of Manchester United quality in depth.
The club academy unearthed gems like Marcus Rashford who is becoming a valuable member of Mourinho’s team, so Axel Tuanzebe – together with Timothy Fosu-Mensah for that matter – will surely hope for a more prominent role next season.
The two youngsters – a central midfielder who can operate as a right-back and a defensive midfielder who shares equal level of versatility – are definitely a timely reminder ahead of what is likely to be another free spending summer.
United’s bright gems are also Jose Mourinho’s chance of redemption as his record of bringing through youth players needs improvement to say the least. Should he succeed in doing what made Ser Alex Ferguson best known for, the Portuguese can also hope to solidify his own status with the Manchester United most faithful.
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