It was a raining night in Paris and it was another night for Manchester United as they turned in one of their classic European performances against last season’s Champions League finalists which included two of the most well talented forwards in world football – Neymar Jr and Kylian Mbappe.
The latter is 13 goals short of Pele’s all-time Brazil record. The other Kylian Mbappe is already a World Cup winner who at times looks like gene-spliced clone of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Now imagine being thrown into a team after 10 months on the sidelines at the back of a defence which has been shaky at best. Yet, Axel Tuanzebe, the 22-year-old, defender not only won in a footrace with Mbappe to give United fans hope that he was the ‘best centre-back’.
One cheeky Wikipedia editor even changed his bio to claim he now ‘owned the city of Paris’. Given the way, Maguire and Lindelof had struggled at the back, United fans wondered why Tuanzebe wasn’t playing more.
A year with numerous injury complaints saw him out for ten months. His last game was against Colchester in the Carabao Cup. Yet, he was perfect in a five-man defence, alongside Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw.
The 34th minute saw what Tuanzebe was capable of. As Mbappe tore down the left flank, United’s academy graduate matched him before shrugging him to the ground and taking the ball.
It evoked Neymar Jr’s inner Greta Thunberg but it only managed to enrage the referee who handed him a yellow card.
In the 72nd minute, he was booked but that didn’t deter him either. With the game on 1-1, he anticipated Mbappe’s run to chase the Frenchman down and outmuscle him.
To put his performance in perspective, he won every aerial duel, had a 92% pass accuracy, made seven clearances, made two fouls and made one block.
David De Gea summed it up when he said: “To be honest, he [Tuanzebe] has been unbelievable today, against some of the best players in the world: Neymar and Mbappe.”
If Rick will always have Paris, then so will Tuanzebe.