Axel Tuanzebe – Manchester United’s unlikely hero in Paris


Written by Shashank Nair

October 22, 2020 1:23:45 am

Alex Tuanzebe (Reuters)

For long-time Manchester United supporters, Axel Tuanzebe is a well-known name – a name instantly associated with pools of potential but also with a career interrupted by multiple injuries. On Tuesday, Tuanzebe returned after a 10-month gap and shut out Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, arguably two of the best attacking talents in the world, in a 2-1 Champions League group stage win for Manchester United at Paris Saint-Germain.

What Tuanzebe did

There were a couple of moments in United’s away trip to the Parc des Princes where all Mbappe could do was scratch his head and look wide-eyed at the referee. On one occasion, Mbappe was through on goal with acres of space and just goalkeeper David de Gea to beat. But Tuanzebe displayed speed – a rare commodity in a recent Manchester United defence. He caught up with the French star and managed to push him off as De Gea collected the ball and averted the danger.

There was another instance where Tuanzebe and Mbappe collided. This time, the forward cut inside to his left and was millimetres away from pulling the trigger. But the United defender used his upper body strength to hold him off and get the ball, ensuring that the shot never came about. Mbappe, the youngest player to ever score in a World Cup final since Pele, was thwarted again.

What did the stats say

Tuanzebe ended the game with a 92 per cent pass completion rate. He won 100 per cent of the aerial duels he contested. He made a vital block to keep United in the game during a period where PSG were looking to score. The defender also managed seven clearances in the victory and only conceded two fouls.

While the statistics by themselves aren’t extraordinary, Tuanzebe had returned from injury when he took his spot against Colchester United in a Carabao Cup tie in December 2019. He had to be taken off in that game after 65 minutes and it seemed like yet another ‘what if’ moment for him.

To go from playing his last match against a League Two team and a 10-month layoff to then facing the Champions League runners-up might have seemed like a challenge too stiff, but Tuanzebe jumped and landed perfectly.

What he said

An aspect of the defender recognised by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is his ability to be a leader on the pitch. In the post-match presser, Tuanzebe once again showed why he is rated so highly by United when he said, “We showed PSG respect, but ultimately we’re the bigger team and we want to dominate and get the three points.”

The 22-year old also spoke about his injury layoff. “I’m feeling okay. You train hard for this [big Champions League games]. I’ve been with the rehab team and they’ve been getting me in every day and working me hard for these kinds of moments, and it’s finally paid off.”

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