Axel Tuanzebe will be hoping that his performance against Astana was enough to convince Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that he should start against his former loan club Aston Villa.
Tuanzebe played a key role for the Villans last season as Dean Smith’s side finally achieved promotion back to the top-flight. He has since established himself as an important member in Solskjaer’s first-team squad.
After impressing against Newcastle United at centre-back alongside Harry Maguire, before being moved to full-back, Tuanzebe’s season suffered a setback when he pulled up in the warm up against Liverpool. He had been due to start the biggest game of his career.
The 22-year-old returned with a cameo appearance in the closing stages in the draw against Sheffield United and built on that with a solid 90 minute display in Kazakhstan.
Given Solskjaer a selection headache
Speaking after Thursday’s Europa League match, Solskjaer was impressed with Tuanzebe’s performance and joked that he may be the man to give the team talk after having two temporary spells at Villa Park.
The Norwegian said on the club’s official website: “Axel can do the team talk for us! Axel has done fantastic and he’s played for 90 minutes, after five minutes or 10 minutes against Sheffield United as well.
“He’s fit now and available and he did well today. He gives me another headache but it’s a good headache. We’ve got players coming back. We’ve suffered from injuries badly and now we’re getting more and more back that will only help us.”
It wasn’t just his current manager that Tuanzebe was receiving praise from.
Speaking at a pre-match press conference, Aston Villa manager Dean Smith spoke in glowing terms about Tuanzebe.
Smith said: “He is a terrific guy. He’s got a terrific attitude, that is the thing which will stand him in good stead with his career. I can’t speak highly enough of him. He was a big part of why we got promoted last season. I loved working with him, and I would like to think I helped in a small part in his development.
“I look forward to seeing him, but hopefully he doesn’t play too well against us.”
Where could Tuanzebe play?
With Victor Lindelöf’s struggles against physical strikers well documented, could Solskjaer be tempted to pick Tuanzebe ahead of the Swede?
United’s number two has had an inconsistent campaign and he would be coming up against the powerful Wesley who would try and impose himself on Lindelöf and force mistakes.
It is highly unlikely that Solskjaer will opt to go with three centre backs again due to the lack of quality and presence in our midfield, that plan backfired against the Blades.
So that’ll mean that Solskjaer will have to decide between Lindelöf or Tuanzebe to partner Maguire.
Maybe a combination of Tuanzebe’s pace and aerial ability plus the knowledge he has playing for Villa will give him the nod.
When Tuanzebe was introduced in the closing stages against Sheffield United, he was playing in the holding midfield role.
If Scott McTominay isn’t available, Solskjaer could well deploy Tuanzebe in the midfield to add some much-needed presence and physicality.
The combination of Fred and Andreas Pereira didn’t work and they couldn’t match the Blades’ energy, work rate and ability to move the ball quickly.
If Solskjaer opts to go with the Brazilian pair again ahead of the likes of James Garner and Dylan Levitt, then Tuanzebe playing behind the duo might have to be a must, if United are going to have any chance of stamping their authority in the middle of the park.
Tuanzebe will be itching to play against some familiar faces and United’s chances of winning the match could be enhanced with the academy graduate starting the game.
But that decision lies with Solskjaer.
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