Why Axel Tuanzebe is the future of Manchester United
This season, Axel Tuanzebe is finally returning to Manchester United. Having been sent out on loan in 2018 for first-team football, Tuanzebe cemented his position in Aston Villa's defense, becoming their first choice center-back at just 20. Turning 22 this November, Tuanzebe will look to replicate his success at Old Trafford in the pre-season.
Rewinding back however, Tuanzebe was a completely different player before his loan stint. A promising talent with clear potential, Tuanzebe was lacking in many areas: he had little success in set-pieces, lacked skills in the air, and had sub-par tackling prowess.
Tuanzebe has improved since then, and now that he has finished his loan spell, it is pretty clear that he has drastically refined his skills; he now has good defending skills, and has become even better on the ball. His intelligence and vision has also gotten better following his loan at Aston villa - his reading of the game has become razor sharp. Tuanzebe's aerial defending is still questionable, but he still has plenty of time to improve on this.
On the other hand, Manchester United have had a fettering problem in defense as of late. Statistically, the Red Devils' backline is their worst in history, conceding 48 goals in their league campaign last season, a club record. Even on paper, Manchester United's defense is sub-par. With Chris Smalling and Victor Linelof as starting center-backs, Luke Shaw as left-back, and Ashley Young as right-back, Manchester United are certainly lacking in the back.
To improve their defense, Manchester United have made two changes to their squad. Firstly, Solkjaer permanently introduced two youth players to the first team - Demetri Mitchell and Diogo Dalot. Mitchell is a 22-year-old pacy left-back who will be a back-up to starting left bacl Luke Shaw, while Dalot is a well-established youngster who has already shown flashes of brilliance in the right-back position. Both players will help the Red Devils considerably, as they haven't had much depth in their defense.
Their second important change was the signing of right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, from Crystal Palace for £45 million. The 21-year old is an incredible talent, with exquisite dribbling skills, as well as the ability to track back in a flash. He is set to replace make-shift right back Ashley Young in the right-back position, as the veteran has been underwhelming in the left back position.
As much as the full-back positions are reinforced however, the center-back positions are still in question for Manchester United. With only Lindelof being a decent centre back, the less-than-spectacular combination of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, and the highly injury-prone Eric Bailly, Manchester United are in dire need of a high-quality establoshed center-back, if they are to compete with rivals Manchester City and Liverpool for the Premier League title.
Because of this, it is being reported that United are aiming to sign England international Harry Maguire, for an estimated £75 million. Maguire is known for his skills in distributing the ball, and playing the ball off the ground - however, Manchester United are reportedly reluctant to pay such a huge amount for the Englishman, which put the move in doubt.
Alternatively, to solve their issues in the center-back position, Manchester United could turn their eye to Axel Tuanzebe.
He is still incredibly young at just 21, and with how much he improved in Aston Villa, there is no reason why he couldn't replicate his success at Old Trafford either. Moreover, in particular, Tuanzebe has three key defensive attributes which make him the arguable future of the Red Devils' defense.
One thing that stands out about Tuanzebe is his skill in 1v1s - his body positioning is on par with some of the best defenders in the world, and using his strength and speed, he is able to follow the attacker and block the ball. In his 18 Championship appearances last season, Tuanzebe was able to block 9 shots, 17 passes, 6 crosses, as well as make 94 clearances, indicating his skills in interceptions.
Similarly, another thing that stands out about his game is his expertise in delaying the attacker. Since Manchester United have highly attacking full-backs, center-backs are usually on their own against pacy attackers on the ball. However, using his aforementioned ability to block players, Tuanzebe is able to delay people on the ball, and allow the full-backs to track back. This is quite a rare attribute seen in the back, as only a few defenders have the athletic ability to consistently block attackers.
Most of all, the biggest thing that stands out about Axel Tuanzebe is his ability on the ball. Since his time in United's youth academy, coaches have been touting Tuanzebe's skill in controlling and distributing the ball. In fact, his skills are so advanced, that he also plays as a defensive midfielder on occasion. He averages 8.77 attacking passes per game, higher than the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Vincent Kompany, who are also known for their ability on the ball. With Manchester United's trademark counter-attacking football, Tuanzebe's skills on the ball will certainly aid in starting quick attacks from the defensive line.
To conclude, the fact stands that Axel Tuanzebe is not the finished article. However, since his fellow center-backs at Manchester United are not playing too well, he should certainly be given chances to prove his worth; if he performs well this season, you better believe that Axel Tuanzebe is the future of Manchester United's defense.