Axel Tuanzebe is one of the most exciting prospects on the books at Manchester United, so it’s hardly surprising fans were somewhat disappointed to see him loaned out once again.
Tuanzebe – who joined the Red Devils’ academy at the age of eight – has been impressive throughout eight senior appearances for the club, but his chances of becoming a regular under Jose Mourinho are slim at best.
So, the 20-year-old is cutting his teeth at Aston Villa for a second consecutive season, hoping to break into the first-team upon his return to Old Trafford.
Tuanzebe sat out much of the 2017-18 campaign due to injury, but he’s already looking like a very important player at Villa Park.
The England U21 international has played 1,085 of a possible 1,350 minutes in the Championship so far – and although it’s early days, the signs are only positive.
Tuanzebe – renowned for his positional versatility – has operated in his preferred centre-back role alongside James Chester and once Alan Hutton since the beginning of October.
“It’s my natural position, it’s where I’ve played for a long time. I feel more comfortable there, I’d only like to portray myself as a centre-back,” he told the club’s official website.
“I’m still sure there’s more to come, we’re still going through a phase of change and I’m sure when we fully cement that phase you’ll be seeing the best of me.”
Tuanzebe spent much of the first two months of the season switching between right-back and centre-back, but there’s no question he plays with more confidence in the heart of the defence.
According to the man himself, the style of football manager Dean Smith has brought to Villa is helping, too.
“You can see from his past clubs how they play football, we’re building out from the back, we take more time in creating chances, it’s not as direct as we used to be, but it’s still a good way of building and improving our way of playing.
“It gives us a variety of ways to create chances and also it means we have more possession of the ball, we’re resting on the ball so we have more energy to create something whilst we have it.
“I’ve enjoyed his training sessions, his methods of play so it’s been good so far.
“It suits my type of play, it’s the type of play we have back at United. It’s all beneficial for me to carry it on from here back into my home club so there’s nothing better for me.”
On Friday evening, Tuanzebe produced his best performance yet, registering 73 completed passes, 12 recoveries and three clearances in a 2-0 victory over Bolton.
Villa fans are thrilled to have him in Birmingham and they took to Twitter to express their appreciation…
Villa might be struggling down in 13th place for the time being, but their prospects of clawing back into the fight for promotion would be far worse without Tuanzebe.