Losing to a fellow ‘big-six’ rival is never great news, but when Manchester United suffered a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal in May 2017, a silver lining seemed to emerge for the Red Devils.
Then only 19, Axel Tuanzebe was handed a surprise start in an unfamiliar right-back role and came up against the talismanic Alexis Sanchez. Despite not being able to prevent his side’s defeat, his performance was singled out for some glowing praise by Jose Mourinho.
The then United boss said: “I think he did an amazing job and I think Alexis knows his name because the kid played very well.”
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Two years later however, Tuanzebe hasn’t quite seen his United career kick on, and amidst the club’s big-money pursuit of Leicester centre-back Harry Maguire, this summer feels all the more pivotal for the young defender.
Despite enjoying a rather impressive campaign on loan at Aston Villa last season, which culminated in the side earning promotion to the Premier League, there appears to be no guarantees that Tuanzebe will be plying his trade at Old Trafford for the upcoming year.
Indeed, The Telegraph claim that whilst the 21-year-old will be given a chance on the Red Devils’ pre-season tour, Villa are waiting in the wings to see if he will be made available for loan again.
If United are successful in their chase to sign Maguire, then Tuanzebe will likely fall even lower down the pecking order. The Englishman is already seemingly behind the likes of Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and even Marcos Rojo, and the arrival of another centre-back would be a massive blow.
Despite signing a new and improved contract this summer, Solskjaer’s comments left little to believe Tuanzebe might be given a legitimate chance at playing in the first-team next year.
The Norwegian simply said: “He had a successful time on loan with Aston Villa and has gained a lot of experience from that spell, which ended in promotion to the Premier League. He will come on the pre-season tour with us which will help his development further.”
So whilst he might only be 21, Tuanzebe will likely need to produce some exemplary performances over the course of the summer in order to force himself into his manager’s thinking. If not, another year on loan would see him be out of sight and out of mind. And in this cut-throat world of instant success, his time at United may already be over.