The Manchester United defender has plenty of abilities on a football pitch, skills he continues to improve whenever any first-team chances present themselves under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. But he will never be able to improve his talent for clearing a Hungry Hungry Hippos board. In 2018, his time of 17.36 seconds was officially declared the world record, the best the planet has ever seen when it comes to board games.
Many might think that this has little or no impact on his ability to play in the defense of the United States. It’s such an eccentric fact that you might expect it to be true for Eric Bailly, or perhaps Phil Jones, rather than the cool-headed Tuanzebe.
The 23-year-old has shown, however, that he possesses extraordinary versatility and flexibility, albeit in a troubled period in Solskjaer’s first team. He is also patient, although he must feel that his steady run to the side is not far on the horizon. We know from his Hungry Hippos score that he is competitive and skillful. Now United need Tuanzebe’s skill set.
Another injury setback for Bailly as he played alongside Tuanzebe in United’s 1-0 FA Cup win over Watford has served as a reminder that the Ivorian is horribly fragile. There is a strong argument that Bailly is United’s best defender, but he cannot be relied on to stay in shape. Tuanzebe, while having his injury issues last season, is ready to escalate doubts over Victor Lindelof’s fitness amid a long-standing back problem.
Rio Ferdinand assessed Tuanzebe’s playing time as an expert for the Watford game and came to a logical conclusion.
The former United center-back said: “I think there must be a point in your career where you say, ‘Look, I’ve been here a long time, I did the groundwork, everyone knows what am I talking about, and where am I in the club ranking?
“I would say right now he’s probably fourth. Does he want to play football? He did well against PSG, against world-class opposition, then he’s not playing.
“As a player you probably think you had a taste and want more. ”
Ferdinand is right. The time for a break or a break is approaching for Tuanzebe; indeed, United are at a crossroads for all their defense. Jose Mourinho’s signings Bailly and Lindelof impressed in spurts, but failed in consistency, while Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones – who have been on United’s ‘unwanted list’ for some time – could finally leave soon.
Now is the perfect time to promote Tuanzebe as Harry Maguire’s de facto partner at the back, while also planning to sign another center-back. Bailly is talented, but he may not be a first team pick, with many would argue Lindelof’s chances are exhausted, despite having formed a semi-effective partnership with Maguire. Between now and summer is the ideal transition period.
United admire Brighton’s Ben White as well as RB Leipzig center-back Dayot Upamecano, but neither would be particularly cheap – and could be off-limits until the summer anyway. At least £ 40million would be needed to sign either.
Where United must invest in January is at right-back, where Brandon Williams lacked confidence against Watford and Aaron Wan-Bissaka must be challenged. Luke Shaw would attest to the benefit of good competition, which has been provided by Alex Telles since October. Shaw has improved noticeably thanks to the pressure from the Brazilian and there is a feeling around United that a promising young player like Max Aarons from Norwich will send Wan-Bissaka back to life.
Scott McTominay’s early header was enough for victory at Old Trafford, as United reserved their hat spot for the fourth round.
United will now refocus on their league campaign with crucial games coming this week against Burnley and Liverpool.
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This could allow United to loan Williams – who wants a temporary transfer to another Premier League – to rediscover the form he showed when entering the senior setup last year. United have passed up the opportunity to promote young Ethan Laird to second choice, loaning him to MK Dons instead, while Timothy Fosu-Mensah is little more than a replacement.
United broke the bank to reshape their defense in Solskjaer’s first big transfer window in the summer of 2019. The combined £ 125million spending on Maguire and Wan-Bissaka has been justified; united defense has improved considerably since then.
But over the past 18 months, Solskjaer has taken United’s attack to the next level, to the stage where it is now among the most dangerous in the Premier League.
This January transfer window is tougher than most, amid covid-19 concerns and tight finances. But United may have the perfect opportunity to review their defense on a limited budget.