This season Aston Villa have done tremendously well in the loan market. Tammy Abraham has been scoring goals for fun whilst Tyrone Mings’ addition in January couldn’t have turned out any better.
But one loanee, who may well now be a bit of a forgotten man having been out for so long through injury, is Axel Tuanzebe.
The Manchester United man performed well during the first half of the season but hasn’t pulled on a Villa shirt since 15th December due to a metatarsal problem.
However, after appearing among the substitutes bench for the first time since his return against Blackburn on Saturday, Tuanzebe is ready to play a major part in Villa’s remaining matches.
A play-off place is anything but secure for Dean Smith’s side who, despite occupying sixth place, have Derby breathing down their necks. The Rams are a point behind with a game in hand so it’s likely it’ll come down to the wire. Villa still have to play Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds and Norwich this term too.
But the return of Tuanzebe is timely and can give them the defensive foundations required to remain tight and compact during such a pressure point of the season.
It may be a significant amount of responsibility to harbour on a 21-year-old’s shoulders but now in his second spell with Villa, he knows how to meet expectations.
The return of the 6 ft defender could see either him or Kortney Hause move into a full-back position. Both are adept in those roles and there is no moving Mings who has one of the centre-back roles on lockdown.
Tuanzebe’s composure with the ball at his feet makes him a great candidate for either role, though, with the defender boasting a better best pass % rate, per WhoScored, than Hause and Mings.
James Chester leads the way in terms of clearances per game for the club, but Tuanzebe is then only second to Mings in that regard. The versatile defender is only behind his fellow loanee in tackles per game too.
But an area where he is greater than the Bournemouth loan star is headed aerial duels, an attribute that without Chester and Tommy Elphick, Villa haven’t always dominated in.
It might feel strange to pin your hopes on such a young player, but among the creative hubs of John McGinn and Jack Grealish and the attacking potency of Abraham, Tuanzebe can become key.