The news has broke that Manchester United youngster Axel Tuanzebe will be joining Aston Villa on loan for the remainder of the season.
After much speculation about who Aston Villa would be able to bring in during the January transfer window, it seems Villa have found themselves a young gem. Tuanzebe has been signed to Manchester United since the age of 8 years old. The 20 year old hails from Bunia, DR Congo. In 2015, Tuanzebe was also the first first-year academy student to wear the captains armband for the Manchester United U18’s since Gary Neville.
Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has been very candid about Tuanzebe leading up to the eventual loan to Aston Villa. On 12 January, the Portuguese coach had this to say about Tuanzebe and his future application with the Red Devils:
“Tuanzebe’s a very good player that is not having lots of possibilities to play here. But he’s our player and will be our player, no chance we give up on such a talented boy. But it is something we are thinking about, a loan until the end of the season. We are a bit afraid of injuries, a bit afraid of needing him. We have Eric Bailly injured, we are not free of other injuries, so we are delaying the decision and we are going to delay until the end of the transfer window. If we have a decision at the end of the month and feel Eric Bailly is close to being back, then probably will be good for Axel to go on a loan and be back next season, because he’s a player we like very much.”
So where does this move slot into the mix for Aston Villa? With John Terry, James Chester and Tommy Elphick already at centre-back, this specific move seems like an intelligent depth move more than anything for the Claret & Blue. Tuanzebe has been known to also play in a defensive midfield role, as well as right-back. Tuanzebe may also be used in a substitute role coming off of the bench. Steve Bruce has generally only substituted a centre-back off of the pitch when an injury has occurred this season. If Villa are to keep the defense fresh for an automatic promotion push, Tuanzebe is certainly not a bad option coming off of the bench. The versatility that Tuanzebe brings could be a breath of fresh air and an aspirin of sorts in the event of a random injury.
The emergence of Birkir Bjarnason as of late also points to a thought that there is a changing of the guard in selection process for Steve Bruce. If Bruce decides to feature Tuanzebe in the same way that Bjarnason has featured over the past two games, Glenn Whelan could be the odd man out. Having younger legs in a central defensive midfield role has played out very well for Steve Bruce so far. Bjarnason had a good game in the 3-1 win over Barnsley, and it would be a raw deal to see him get benched in favor of Whelan getting over his latest injury.