Manchester United’s starting XI had Wayne Rooney, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera, and David de Gea. Easily £180m worth of talent. But the top performer yesterday was academy graduate Axel Tuanzebe. Did I mention it was his debut?
A debut with Alexis Sanchez running at you can end a career before it starts. But Tuanzebe’s display will definitely be spoken about in the same breath as we speak about Rashford’s debut and the following game against Arsenal. The reserves captain made his Premier League debut and first senior start after flirting with a breakthrough for a long time. And when he got his chance, he gladly took it.
A centre-half by trade, he slotted in at right-back and looked comfortably at home. Against Arsenal’s best player and biggest threat, Tuanzebe showed matureness way beyond his tender age. He was disciplined throughout the 90 minutes and shut out the prolific Chilean.
The tall and strong ‘kid’ never shied away from a tackle and won his aerial duels. He was cool and composed and stepped in to make several vital interceptions. Afforded the chance to move forward, he did well. Despite venturing into the attacking mix once in the first-half he left Sanchez in his wake and accelerated down the touchline before winning a free kick.
The biggest challenge was the mental one of facing Alexis. The Chilean can cut inside, push down the wing or put a perfect ball into the box. Tuanzebe trusted his instincts and was mostly right in his decisions to let Sanchez run or when to track the danger man.
Mourinho could not have put it better when he said: “The kid did an amazing job. I think Alexis knows his name because the kid played very well.”