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Smalling, Jones OUT; Tuanzebe, Fosu-Mensah IN?

Jose Mourinho has been hit with yet another frustrating setback, with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling returning to Manchester after suffering injuries early into the international break. The pair joins the reds increasing list of sidelined players; Ibrahimović and Herrera still out with a suspension and Pogba recovering from his injury but possibly returning sooner than expected. After adjusting the formation to three at the back, Mourinho is now left with just three senior centre-backs; Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo, and Daley Blind. The United boss is in a precarious situation, in need to see Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingard, and Marcus Rashford return to Carrington fully fit.

April presents yet another tiresome fixture list for the reds, needing to play nine games in 30 days. The hectic month includes a tricky quarter-final in the UEFA Europa League against Belgian giants Anderlecht, a colossal meeting with Chelsea at Old Trafford and an away trip to Etihad. Last season, Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United were repeatedly wounded with a variety of different injuries, suffering more injuries than any other Premier League team. The rotten injury luck revealed a silver lining, however, as Marcus Rashford burst onto scene alongside other members of the Academy; James Weir, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Guillermo Varela and James Weir. The presence of youth provided the squad with a pulsating energy boost that helped cover the cracks in the team throughout the season.

Axel Tuanzebe was promoted to the first team after the departures of Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin in January, he was named in the Europa League squad as a B-list player earlier in the season. Tuanzebe, 19, is an intelligent defender with exceptional leadership values. Displaying a physical presence, agility, speed and composure on the ball, Axel is a truly all-rounded defender, naturally a center back, but intelligent enough to play elsewhere. The impressive youngster won the U18 Player of the Year award after captaining the team and showcasing his raw talent. After dominating the reserves over the past few seasons, many believe he’s ready to showcase his abilities in the first team. After being promoted to the first team in February, Mourinho also believes he may be ready to earn a place in the first team;

“Axel is one of the boys that’s in the Academy who is closer to playing with us. So, we have brought him up to give him more experience, to make the first team more natural for him in case we need him to play in the upcoming matches and month, so he can be more adapted to us.”

Timothy Fosu-Mensah has been spoken highly of by the entire United faithful ever since he first made his debut against Arsenal last season. The Dutch sensation has been given few chances to say the least, despite showing great potential in every display. Since debuting for the reds, Fosu-Mensah has played at centre-back, left-back, right-back, right wing-back and centre defensive midfield. Under Mourinho, however, the Dutchman has played at center defensive midfield and right back. Since Mourinho turns a blind eye to versatility, Fosu-Mensah is thought to be the last choice option at center back. Nevertheless, with only three senior players available to fill the role, Fosu-Mensah could yet still feature at center back over the coming month.

Mourinho is notoriously poor with the youth management and has shown this at every club he’s managed at. However, he’s spotted potential in more defenders than any other position, notably promoting Fabinho (AS Monaco), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) and Kurt Zouma (Chelsea) to the first team. Tuanzebe and Fosu-Mensah hold just as much potential as the other youth defenders managed by Mourinho and could indeed be set to showcase the evidence in coming weeks.

Written by Faaris Johal

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