Returning defender Axel Tuanzebe is determined to help Manchester United compete in the Champions League after their resolve to dominate as the “bigger club” reaped rewards at Paris St Germain.
Even with Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly injured, it was a big call from manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to include the 22-year-old in an unfamiliar back three up against Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria.
Making his first appearance since the Carabao Cup win against Colchester in December 2019, the United academy graduate stepped up impressively and helped his side to another fine win in the French capital.
Anthony Martial’s own goal cancelled out Bruno Fernandes’ retaken penalty, but Marcus Rashford slammed home at the death to secure a 2-1 victory that Solskjaer’s side deserved from their Group H opener.
“It was good, it was good to get a run out,” Tuanzebe said. “It’s a difficult game to come back to, but I’m just happy we’ve got the win.
“For us, we came here to win. We’re in this competition to compete.
“We showed PSG respect, but ultimately we’re the bigger team and we want to dominate and get the three points.
“We’re a big club and we’re out here to compete. We’re not here for the music or just for the parade.
A first #MUFC appearance since December 2019.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) October 20, 2020
“We worked hard last season to be in this competition, so we want to be the best we can and we wanted to start off just as we did today and continue that momentum going forward.”
Tuanzebe spoke with the authority he displayed in defence, where one particular challenge with World Cup-winning star Mbappe underlined his capabilities to be a top defender.
Solskjaer lauded the 22-year-old for his “unbelievable performance” in Paris – a display the United boss admitted “almost surprised” the coaching staff as they “know he’s a good player but on a night like this, he was fantastic”.
Tuanzebe completed the full match on his first appearance of 2020 and showed he is capable of starting for United, having shone in the 3-5-2 system that was so effective at the empty Parc des Princes.
“I’m feeling OK,” he said. “You train hard for this.
“I’ve been with the rehab team and they’ve been getting me in every day and working hard for these kind of moments, so it’s finally paid off.
“Obviously to aid the team and it being a difficult game, we tried something new (tactically) and it paid off.
“And we’re happy that it paid off. Three points and happy days.”
— Victor Lindelöf (@vlindelof) October 21, 2020
Tuanzebe praised Alex Telles for his “solid performance” at left wing-back on his debut, while he was as impressed as everyone else by Rashford after securing a late win at PSG, just as he did 19 months ago.
“I kept telling him through the game, ‘I want my goal, I want my goal!’ and he delivered, so I’m just happy for him,” the defender told MUTV.
“He’s delivering week in, week out for the team and I just want him to keep going and helping the team out.”