Axel Tuanzebe has been speaking about his frustrating injury-hit season.
Despite captaining Manchester United early in the campaign, Tuanzebe has had two lengthy lay-offs with injury.
Just as he had worked his way back to full fitness and come through two under-23 games unscathed, the season was halted.
Tuanzebe says this has been hard to deal with, and just wanted to be part of the team’s recent success.
He told the Manchester Evening News: “It’s just frustrating, it’s very hard to deal with it, mentally. Just because you see everyone progressing and you want to be a part of that, I want myself to improve and to be denied that opportunity is very frustrating.
“And coming off the back of last season and doing so well on loan I wanted this season to be special for me, but it’s not gone to plan. But there is still time ahead to improve and get going again.”
Still has a big future
Tuanzebe has only two Premier League starts to his name this season. He has another three appearances from the bench.
To make it even more difficult, only one of these starts came at centre-back, as he lined up at full-back against Arsenal, and in the other start against Newcastle, he was moved to right-back after Diogo Dalot went off injured.
So he has only had an hour of football in the league as a starter alongside Harry Maguire at centre-back, and for that hour United did not concede.
It’s too small a sample size to really measure Tuanzebe, who has another five starts in the Europa League and Carabao Cup.
The centre-back suffered his first injury in the warm-up at home to Liverpool in October, when he was scheduled to line up as part of a back three for the first time. It would have been a big opportunity for him.
He then returned only to get injured in the Carabao Cup against Colchester at Old Trafford and has not played since.
Irregular football has made it tough for Tuanzebe, who had started the season promisingly after playing a prominent role in pre-season.
Harry Maguire’s arrival saw him slip down the pecking order to third choice, and now Eric Bailly’s return from injury means Tuanzebe is fourth choice.
The 22-year-old can still have a big role at United, but this has clearly been a season of missed opportunities for him.
When the campaign returns he should get opportunities at some stage, but United’s defence has been so strong lately there is no reason to make change for change sake.
This time next year we should have a better picture of what Tuanzebe is. Will he suffer more fitness problems and prove to be an injury prone player? Or can he establish himself and even force his way into the England squad for Euro 2021.
It could go either way. It’s been a long journey for Tuanzebe for United, and this season could still end on a high for him if he helps the team to win silverware.
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