Tuanzebe: We're in the Champions League to win
Axel Tuanzebe has reacted with typical modesty to his imperious return to the Manchester United first team during an excellent 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain.
The Academy graduate had not played a minute since a Carabao Cup win against Colchester in December 2019, but met the challenge brought by PSG’s superstar forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe head-on.
“Most definitely, you pay them [Neymar, Mbappe and Angel Di Maria] the respects but, at the end of the day, you focus on your own game and you try and do your best for the team. We came out here to win, got the three points and we’re happy with that.”
The defender was part of an unfamiliar-looking back five, which saw debutant Alex Telles at left wing-back, Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right wing-back, and Tuanzebe on the right side of a central-defensive trio alongside Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw.
“Obviously to aid the team and it being a difficult game, we tried something new and it paid off,” explained the Rochdale-born centre-half. “And we’re happy that it paid off. It’s three points and happy days.
Marcus Rashford grabbed the game’s winner, with a stunning solo strike in the final 10 minutes, and Tuanzebe joked that he’d been pushing his Academy colleague on throughout the match.
“I kept telling him through the game, ‘I want my goal, I want my goal!’” laughed Axel, “and he delivered, so I’m just happy for him. And he’s delivering week in week out for the team, and I just want him to keep going and helping the team out.”
With the games coming thick and fast for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Reds, both staff and fans alike will be hoping the centre-back can put together a consistent run of form in the coming weeks and stake his claim for a permanent spot in the starting XI.
And Tuanzebe said his body was holding up well after a tough 90 minutes against the French champions.
“I’m feeling okay. You train hard for this,” he revealed. “I’ve been with the rehab team and they’ve been getting me in every day and working me hard for these kind of moments, and it’s finally paid off.”
The result puts United level with RB Leipzig at the top of Champions League Group H, and the two teams meet at Old Trafford next Wednesday, in what already looks like a pivotal game in terms of the group’s final outcome.
“We’re a big club, and we’re out here to compete,” stressed Tuanzebe. “We’re not here for the music or just for the parade. 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 this momentum going forward.”