AXEL TUANZEBE has been talked about at Manchester United for a long time but injuries have affected his progress.
After his loan with Aston Villa, helping them get promoted to the Premier League, he looked ready to push on but for a hamstring injury in December 2019.
But as he showed in his spectacular return performance against Paris Saint-Germain, dealing with the pace of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, the beauty of what he brings is that he is a centre-back that does not look isolated in wide areas.
And with this United side looking more at ease playing with three at the back as opposed to a four, the 22-year-old could prove a vital cog for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
At the other end of the pitch, boss Solskjaer has a set of front players that like to play centrally, whether that’s cutting in from the wings like Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood or running from deep like Bruno Fernandes.
It is arguably why they win so many penalties, because their attacking players are driving into the box at speed.
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So their only real width comes from the wing-backs.
And to ensure they provide enough attacking intent without worrying about making 70-yard runs back to defend, you need three at the back.
In the PSG game they had just that, with two wide centre-backs in Tuanzebe and Luke Shaw, who were comfortable being outside the 18-yard box and acting as extra protection if they lost the ball higher up the pitch.
One of United’s biggest problems when playing 4-2-3-1 is they have two centre-backs in Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof who are not as comfortable out wide and are vulnerable to the counter-attack down the sides, shown in their 6-1 thrashing by Tottenham.
With three at the back that counter can be nullified, with three defenders plus a holding midfielder staying back, while the wing-backs get the freedom to go forward and create the width.
It is a system they should stick to when Chelsea visit Old Trafford today.
Frank Lampard’s side will probably have more of the ball.
But we have seen in recent times that United are comfortable having less ball but attacking in numbers on the break, beating the likes of Leicester, Manchester City and Tottenham that way last season.
United do not have a centre-back partnership like Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic or John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, so they have to compensate with three at the back.
This may finally be the break Tuanzebe has been waiting for since emerging as a United prospect five years ago.
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