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Axel Tuanzebe could be the leader Manchester United require in their defensive line; he deserves the chance to prove himself

Axel Tuanzebe is a player who has risen through the ranks at Manchester United. Starting his rise to first team football in the U18s during the 2013/14 season, despite signing for the club whilst he was still at primary school, the DR Congo-born defender has started to show the signs of a player that could reach for the stars at the Old Trafford club.

Tuanzebe made 86 appearances at academy level from the 2013/14 season until the 2017/18 season; playing in the U18s, U19s and U23s also breaking into the first team where he made six appearances between the 2016/17 and 2017/18 season. The now 21-year-old scored twice whilst representing United at youth level, assisting one more goal.

When the England youth international started out at U18 level, he captained his team more than once, becoming the full-time captain during the following season. That was an early look at the players’ leadership skills, something which could help him break into the United squad under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, hopefully in the immediate future.

Tuanzebe made his break into the United first team under Louis van Gaal during the 2015/16 season where he was named on the bench, although not used. The following season, the first for new manager Jose Mourinho, the player actually played some matches making his debut in a 4-0 Emirates FA Cup victory over Wigan Athletic, replacing Tim Fosu-Mensah.

The player signed a new contract with the club days after his debut which will keep him at the Old Trafford club until the summer of 2020, although there is the option of a further year to be added. Tuanzebe is a life-long United supporter so it is only natural that he would like to play for this club. More important than ever is him breaking into the first team at the club after a successful spell with Aston Villa.

Tuanzebe was loaned to Villa during the 2017/18 season but injury struck and he was only able to make five appearances. He was then loaned to the Birmingham club for the entire 2018/19 season and has so far played a total of 29 matches and although injury struck, he was fit for the run-in with Villa achieving a place in the playoffs, beating West Bromwich Albion 4-3 on penalties after a 2-2 aggregate draw. They face Derby County at Wembley in the playoff final on Monday afternoon.

The 21-year-old is now entering a crucial stage of his career. He has seen first team football at Villa and will be looking for more. United’s defence needs new faces as the likes of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling do not have the faith of the majority of supporters and there are cries for a leader at the back – something Tuanzebe has shown at Villa at times this season. He has been praised by Nicky Butt, United academy director, who said:

“Axel [Tuanzebe] is a very talented boy, who I do believe is going to have a good career at Manchester United. There is no point sitting around not playing football and he’s gone to Aston Villa, who are a big, big club.

“He got injured but is back playing well again now and now he has a few big play-off games coming up.”

Solskjaer has effectively confirmed that Tuanzebe will be taken on United’s pre-season tour in which they will face Perth Glory and Leeds United in Australia, then onto the International Champions Cup where they will face Inter Milan in Singapore, Tottenham Hotspur in Shanghai before facing AC Milan in Cardiff. Tuanzebe has already been involved in three pre-season tours already.

Les Parry, United’s academy player performance manager, is tasked with keeping track of all players on loan this season has also praised the player, confirming that he was one of Villa’s best players before injury struck, coming back at the right time to make an impact again. The playoff final will be a big occasion for him as he could help his loan club earn a place in the Premier League once again, as teammate Dean Henderson has with Sheffield United. Parry said:

“He was doing ever so well when he got injured. In fact, he was one of Villa’s better players. Fortunately, it was a great time for him to come back as it was during the international break.

“It gave him time to settle back in at Villa Park before the first game so he could get up to speed again. Of course, we want all our lads to have that sort of experience, going to Wembley, as that is the sort of experience you need as you have got to get used to playing in big games.

“So the more big games the lads can play in, when they’re out on loan, the better.”

Obviously, Tuanzebe will need to impress Solskjaer and his coaching team in order to break into the United first team this summer, heading into the new season. Victor Lindelof needs a capable defensive partner and, in my opinion, Tuanzebe has the skill and determination to do that. I also feel that he’s a better defender than Phil Jones, so that gives him something to propel him forward. The only thing that may hamper his chances would be whether United signed a central defensive player this summer and who from the current squad left the club. If one comes in and two go out, Tuanzebe will have a great chance.

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