Fri. Dec 4th, 2020

Man Utd

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Manchester United might know their January transfer priority already

3 min read

Axel Tuanzebe both solved a Manchester United problem and highlighted it, in the space of 90 minutes against Paris Saint-Germain.

Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand have led the calls for United to recruit a centre-back with pace in recent months. And Tuanzebe’s performance in shutting down Kylian Mbappe and Neymar in United’s 2-1 Champions League victory at the Parc des Princes showed why two of Sir Alex Ferguson’s trusted lieutenants were right all along. In fact, it was probably one Tuanzebe run and challenge on Mbappe rather than the whole 90-minute display that showed it in microcosm.

Tuanzebe, in that moment, did what Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof cannot do. And with Eric Bailly on the treatment table far too often to be depended on, a new priority revealed itself to United’s transfer team.

“This is where Manchester United have struggled in the last six to 12 months, chasing players down the channels,” Ferdinand told BT Sport after the win, analysing how Tuanzebe tracked Mbappe into the channels. “They can’t stay with them and then that opens up the back four. They were smelling danger.

“Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer] has just said he’s snuffed out two of the best strikers in the world. You have to reward performances.”


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There is no doubt that Tuanzebe will get his rewards very soon. Bailly’s injury and doubts over Maguire’s fitness give the 22-year-old a great chance to string together some appearances for United after 10 months on the sideline. Solskjaer has long rated the former Aston Villa loanee, whose pace offers an extra dimension to the United back line and who has already exhibited leadership credentials.

But if Solskjaer is to continue with the 3-5-2 that worked so brilliantly against PSG, he will need another centre-back of Tuanzebe’s ilk. United have already cast Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo aside, willing to sell them if offers come in this January; youngster Teden Mengi is only 18 and needs the kind of loan experience Tuanzebe got at Villa, leaving United with only three dependable centre-backs. Chris Smalling is now long gone, winning admirers at Roma.

United will need four or five centre-backs if Solskjaer wants to play a three-man central defence more often. And by the Paris evidence, it should certainly remain paramount in his tactical thinking. Luke Shaw is a makeshift option on the left of a trio, but United should still be looking at someone like Dayot Upamecano.

The 21-year-old RB Leipzig centre-back is similar to Tuanzebe in that he is young, quick and showing immense promise. Upamecano actually has more experience at the top level than Tuanzebe and United are likely to get a good look at him next week when they host Leipzig in the Champions League. They may settle on other targets of course, but when pundits are suggesting Upamecano as a possible alternative to Virgil van Dijk for Liverpool, that is an endorsement in itself.

The Old Trafford club were criticised for their inability to land Jadon Sancho in the summer transfer window just gone. Therefore many expect United to try again for the Borussia Dortmund wide man when the window re-opens in January.

But a mobile and quick-thinking centre-back to fit into the squad alongside Tuanzebe, Maguire and Lindelof would be a much better fit for the system that is bearing fruit for Solskjaer right now. . An elite right-winger will probably not be attainable in mid-season anyway.

United can introduce Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood, Donny van de Beek and Paul Pogba in terms of attacking options who did not start against Paris Saint-Germain. You cannot make such claims about the depth in defence right now.

So despite Tuanzebe’s incredible performance, which offers great hope to a previously struggling United defence, the Rochdale-born centre-back has merely reminded Solskjaer that more similar stars are urgently required.

It won’t be easy in January, but one game ought to signal a change in United’s transfer priorities.

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