Axel Tuanzebe Pocketed PSG's Superstars - He Must Be Rewarded With a Run in the Man Utd Team

Oct 21, 2020, 12:15 PM GMT+1
Tuanzebe kept Mbappe quiet throughout | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faced somewhat of a selection dilemma coming into his side's opening Champions League clash with last season's finalists Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday night.

Indeed, the boss confirmed in the build-up to the match in Paris that Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly hadn't travelled with the squad due to injury.

It was a very high profile game for Tuanzebe to make his return | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

The timing of these injuries couldn't have been much worse - after all, they were soon going to face off against the menacing front trio of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Angel Di Maria. Considering Les Parisiens' firepower up front, a number of Red Devils fans feared the worst when the team sheet revealed Axel Tuanzebe - who hadn't played a senior match in ten months - would be starting on the right side of a back three.

And alongside him? Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw.

Yes, the same Victor Linedlof and Luke Shaw who were at fault time and time....and time again against Tottenham, Crystal Palace and Brighton earlier in the season.

Tuanzebe last featured for the Red Devils against Colchester in the Carabao Cup in December, but on Tuesday, he was tasked with keeping Mbappe and Neymar quiet. Sure, Luke Norris might have been a handful in the Carabao Cup clash, but this was a slightly more daunting task.

Axel Tuanzebe, Luke Norris
Tuanzebe had last featured against....Colchester | Clive Mason/Getty Images

It may well have been the 22-year-old's first appearance in 2020, but Tuanzebe was simply phenomenal as he helped United pick up a hugely impressive 2-1 win at the Parc des Princes. The right-sided central defender was a rock at the back, reading the game exceptionally and sniffing out danger.

Perhaps what was most impressive about Tuanzebe's display was just how composed and confident he was both with and without the ball. This is a 22-year-old, who was playing his first game in just under one year against last season's finalists. It would have been easy (and understandable) if Tuanzebe had looked flustered on Tuesday, making rash decisions and looking to dive in to try and stop the threat posed by Mbappe and Neymar.

Yet, this was not the case. At all.

Tuanzebe was left in one-on-one situations with Mbappe twice during the game, but instead of looking to try and win the ball when it simply wasn't going to be possible, he showed his pace to track the Frenchman and eventually draw a foul inside his own area. Oh, and there's also the small matter of Tuanzebe showing the speed to keep up with Mbappe, who isn't exactly slow, is he?

For a player still so young, Tuanzebe showed real maturity to know when to get tight and stop his opponent from turning and when to drop off. The United man's performance left Mbappe frustrated down the left, forcing the World Cup winner to gesture to his teammates at the end of the first half that he wanted to switch sides.

But with Di Maria simply unable to get into the game, Mbappe quickly found himself back on the left. Of course, the 21-year-old is one of the most dangerous players with the ball at his feet, but Tuanzebe also had to be alert to balls over the top as Neymar was constantly looking to pick up pockets of space and get his teammate in behind.

But again, Tuanzebe was first to everything, winning every single aerial duel he went up for. No, that is not an exaggeration.

He played with such authority and composure when out of possession, but he was also vital to helping United build up from the back. Instead of simply looking to get the ball as far away from the danger area as possible, the number 38 was seemingly the calmest man in the stadium as he stepped forward with the ball time and time again. As well as playing simple passes into the midfield, he also looked to get Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in behind, forcing PSG back.

Defensive performances simply don't come much better on the big stage against the likes of Neymar and Mbappe. Sure, some will allude to the fact that Les Parisiens were nowhere near their best, but the reality is that United's defence - led by young Tuanzebe - frustrated Thomas Tuchel's men and never allowed them to find their rhythm.

Tuanzebe was commanding in his work | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

A lot has been made of United's defensive frailties, which have been very evident in the early parts of the season. But Tuanzebe could be just the partner Harry Maguire needs in the long-term, with his reading of the game, composure, height, calmness and pace as well.

The defender brought balance to the defence and an air of composure, cooly meeting high balls and nipping in to win the ball back with relative ease. With Bailly out for up to a month (again) and Maguire struggling for fitness as well, Solskjaer must reward Tuanzebe with a run in the team during this brutal period of fixtures.

Tuanzebe showed on Tuesday that he has all the attributes to be the central defender United have been desperately crying out for, but everyone involved with the club will be hopeful he can maintain fitness and stay clear of the injuries which have troubled him during his career up to this point.

Rashford may have grabbed the headlines with his late winner, but Tuanzebe simply couldn't have done a better job at keeping out a potent PSG attack.

Not bad for his first game in just under a year, is it?

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