Axel Tuanzebe started at right-back against Wigan this weekend, with Mile Jedinak replacing Tommy Elphick in the role next to James Chester. With Ritchie De Laet returning from suspension, should Tuanzebe move into a more central role?
Words by Matt Blogg (@Blogg_Matt)
Villa are once again making the most of the loan market, with Manchester United defender Axel Tuanzebe returning for the season as a defensive option for Steve Bruce. The youngster has been given the number 4 shirt which indicates he is right at the forefront of Bruce’s defensive plans, even if this means dislodging joint top goal-scorer for Villa this season, Tommy Elphick.
Said ironically of course, the last thing Elphick is known for is his goal-scoring, but after his display against Hull in the opening game, it would feel rather harsh to leave him out. He is a natural leader and will never shy away from a challenge. His experience is incredibly useful and he knows how to win this league after lifting the trophy as Bournemouth captain in their promotion campaign.
However, it doesn’t look like Elphick is a regular starter in Bruce’s eyes after the arrival of Tuanzebe. Should an injury come around in our centre back department, Tommy Elphick would make a more than competent replacement, but unfortunately for the 30 year old it does look like that’s all he’s going to be… a third-choice centre back.
Now if Bruce plays 3 at the back then Elphick could have a massive part to play this season, but the vast majority of Villa fans would much rather see a standard
4 at the back formation which would see no room for Elphick, and rightly so.
Now isn’t the time for sentiment at Aston Villa with a place in the top 6 the minimum aim again, so even though Elphick can bring experience and knowhow, Tuanzebe should and probably will get a starting role at centre back for most of this season.
Giving him the number 4 shirt shows great faith in him and as a centre back pairing with Chester, this does fill you with more confidence than if it were Elphick in his shoes. Tuanzebe and Chester complement each other fantastically well, both
possessing attributes that the other lacks, so as a partnership it has potential to really blossom.
While Chester is one of the best defenders in the championship, he is not very quick, so having an incredible athlete such as Tuanzebe alongside him to cover could be a fantastic acquisition from Steve Bruce. And likewise, Tuanzebe playing next to Chester will teach him so much in terms of leadership, positioning and anticipation.
Tuanzebe will get progressively better as the season goes on and he could end up being a key figure in Villa’s promotion push. We didn’t get to see the best of Tuanzebe last season, but this time he returns fully fit, with the boss’s backing and no John Terry to kick out the starting eleven, so despite the experienced head of Elphick being an option, it is likely that Tuanzebe will start the majority of games at centre back if he
can stay fit.
If Elphick is called upon then we know we have a reliable man coming in, but if every centre back is fit, Tuanzebe should start over Elphick purely because he brings more to the table and complements James Chester much more usefully. Us fans will support whoever pulls on the shirt, but expect it to be Axel more often than not.