Alongside Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Roshaun Williams, Axel Tuanzebe had long been earmarked as part of a young defensive-minded core of United youngsters who were good enough to truly make the breakthrough to the first team. Given the understandable skepticism over José Mourinho’s record of promoting youth, it was a pleasant surprise to see Tuanzebe elevated to training with the senior squad and even singled out for praise as early as the preseason.
Tuanzebe had to wait some time for his debut though, and even then it was as a substitute in an FA Cup match that had already been decided. Since Mourinho - unlike his predecessor - does not believe in having first team players maintain fitness by playing in the reserves, it was starting to look like Tuanzebe would have benefited more from a loan. Luckily for the youngster, a rash of injuries and a need to rotate players in a competition that had now been de-prioritized opened a door for Tuanzebe to make his full debut.
Although a center back by trade, Tuanzebe got his first senior start away at Arsenal at right-back, facing up directly with Alexis Sánchez; a daunting proposal even for seasoned professionals. Tuanzebe did very well though, and went on to start the next two consecutive matches, both in midfield, where he demonstrated that he can do a job as well.
A handful of appearances in matches where there is little pressure is not much to go on, but Tuanzebe looks composed beyond his years, and has shown enough ability and tactical flexibility to earn a shot at keeping his place in the senior squad for next season.
José Mourinho approval rating: A wink, a smile, and a patronizing pat on the buttocks.