Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has told Axel Tuanzebe now is the time to “kick on” and make a place at the heart of Manchester United ’s defence his own.
The young defender made his first appearance for the Red Devils in almost a year in Tuesday’s Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain.
Tuanzebe, 22, has been out of commission largely due to injury during that time, and injuries have dogged his time as a member of United’s senior squad since initially making his debut under Jose Mourinho in January 2017.
His loan spell at Aston Villa in 2019 - where he played a key role in their promotion from the Championship - had been intended to be a springboard for the Congo-born defender to push his way into United’s first-team.
And he indeed captained the side in last season’s Carabao Cup clash with Rochdale, a sign of how highly he’s rated by Solskjaer.
Having not appeared for the seniors since last December - in another Carabao Cup clash, this time against Colchester - Tuanzebe shone on the right of a back three at the Parc des Princes, impressing in his battle with Kylian Mbappe.
"It was a great performance by a kid who's not played for 10 months" Solskjaer said.
"Delighted for him because he is such a professional character, he wants everything, he works really hard, been really, really thorough in his rehab, and I am very pleased for him.”
Now Solskjaer must decide whether to start a player he believes is a natural leader against Chelsea at Old Trafford on Saturday.
United conceded six in their last home game - the thumping by Spurs - and the partnership of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof has struggled thus far.
With the rapid Timo Werner set to lead Chelsea’s attack, the recovery speed of Tuanzebe would no doubt be an asset against Frank Lampard’s men.
But while the United boss wants more from the England Under-21 international, he is wary of Tuanzebe’s past injury issues.
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have missed out on Jadon Sancho in the summer, but he still made some big moves in the transfer market with Donny van de Beek, Alex Telles and Edinson Cavani all arriving.
But their start to the season has been a mixed bag, with a home defeat to Crystal Palace and a 6-1 thrashing by Spurs at one end of the scale, and a tremendous 2-1 win over PSG in Paris at the other.
The question now is whether they can find the right balance?
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"Now to get consistency in his performances he’s got to stay injury-free, we have to manage that," said Solskjaer.
"That’s mine and his job and the physio staff’s job, of course. But I think he can kick on.
"He's such a leader. He can play right-back, centre-back, central midfield, he can play many positions and he's a boy who takes responsibility for his own development.
"I'm sure he's doing everything he can to have a long career at United.
"So hopefully we can get that consistency."
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