Manchester United have a decision to make over who starts at centre-back against Granada this week, with Harry Maguire suspended.
It will be a choice between Eric Bailly, who has featured in knockout rounds as three times as a starter against Real Sociedad and AC Milan, and Axel Tuanzebe, who has just 45 minutes action in the competition this season.
On that basis the more sensible decision would be to start Bailly, if available, but there are a number of factors which add up to make Tuanzebe the more likely and sensible option.
United at this stage have to plan for Tuanzebe to start the game. Bailly has been out after testing positive for Covid.
While journalist Jonathan Shrager reported Bailly was set to return to Manchester ahead of the game after being stuck in the Ivory Coast, he was not involved in training at Carrington on Tuesday.
Even if he features today or Thursday, Tuanzebe has had extra time with the squad recently, and should be in pole position for the start.
Bailly’s future at United is in real doubt. He has just one year left on his contract and ESPN report he plans to reject a new deal, because he wants to be first choice.
Unfortunately Bailly’s injury record has meant United can’t trust him to be first choice, with just 100 games played in five years. Harry Maguire has played 102 in less than two seasins.
So United need to have a closer look at Tuanzebe, who could join Bailly in leaving the club this summer if not given opportunities. If United can’t trust him ahead of Bailly at this point, then he might as well move on.
Tuanzebe does have potential, but he has let himself down a couple of times this season, after his impressive return from injury against PSG.
The good news for him is he would be partnering Victor Lindelof, who played alongside him in France. Tuanzebe’s starts against Basaksehir and Sheffield United were alongside Harry Maguire, and those matches did not go so well.
United need to find out more about the player we have in Tuanzebe. Is he good enough, or not?
A poor performance against Granada could be one United could live with, due to the 2-0 advantage from the first leg, and it would prompt the club to start planning to sign two centre-backs this summer, instead of just one to replace Bailly.
Either way, United have to find this out sooner or later. Time is running out ahead of decision time this summer. So this is the moment for Tuanzebe to step up.
He should get an opportunity against Granada, rather than wantaway Bailly, and if he wants more chances, he has to perform well.
Leaving him on the bench in favour of Bailly would likely push Tuanzebe towards wanting an exit, which could backfire if he does actually turn out to be good enough for United, and simply chose to leave because Solskjaer could not trust him ahead of a player who wants out.
In short, Tuanzebe should be given the chance to determine his own fate on the pitch. United could learn a lot about him this week.
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