Is Axel Tuanzebe a viable holding midfield option for Manchester United?

Manchester United’s run of poor form has shone a spotlight on the challenges facing manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

To that end, the Daily Telegraph published a piece suggesting the changes the Norwegian could make to get more out of his Red Devils side.

One of them involved moving 21-year-old defender Axel Tuanzebe into holding midfield, allowing Paul Pogba to roam further forward.

Is this a viable option? We’ve taken a closer look.

Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Why it might work

The theory is centred around getting Pogba higher up the pitch while retaining energy in the middle of the park.

Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira have all played in the number ten position and none of them have proved themselves capable of producing goals and assists on a regular basis.

Getting Pogba higher up the pitch is the most obvious solution to United’s attacking woes and he has never shone at Old Trafford as part of a midfield two.

Tuanzebe is not a seasoned or experienced holding player, but between him and Scott McTominay, perhaps they could form an energetic, defensively-minded shield for the backline and platform for Pogba to shine in a free role.

Tuanzebe is fast, and he is an imposing presence with a defensive mindset. These are all attributes which could allow him to thrive in the position.

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Why it might not

Tuanzebe is no holding midfield player and playing him alongside McTominay would make for a fairly limited double pivot in a technical sense.

He hasn’t got the experience of playing in there. His performance in the unfamiliar left back role on Monday night was assured defensively but not particularly adventurous.

He was unable to overlap Daniel James effectively and his misplaced pass which allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to equalise was dreadful.

Operating in the centre of the park would put even more pressure on his ball-playing capacities. Could Tuanzebe cope?

Would it be a good idea?

Anything that gets Pogba up the pitch is worth consideration at present. But could Fred not offer an energetic shield for the backline, with the added bonus of midfield experience?

Additionally, United hampered the development of a young Phil Jones by shunting him from defence to midfield and they would be foolish to do similar with Tuanzebe.

It’s easy to see the theory behind it, but Tuanzebe should remain in the backline, with Fred or even Andreas Pereira preferable options at the back of midfield if Pogba is moved into the ten role.

United’s form is poor at present, and this would only pile the pressure on Tuanzebe attempting to learn a new position under the spotlight.

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Sam Preston is an NCTJ gold standard news and sports journalist who studied with the Press Association. He also has a 2:1 law with French law degree from the University of Birmingham, which included a year studying at Bordeaux Montaigne University. He is an FA Level 1 football coach who appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show in 2018 and has also written digital football content and match-day programme pieces for Colchester United, Mansfield Town and Stockport County.