Axel Tuanzebe

Talking Point: Back three or four v Chelsea?

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Thomas Tuchel admitted he was surprised by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s choice of formation on Tuesday night, after the Manchester United manager started with a back three for the 2-1 Champions League win at Parc des Princes.

Frank Lampard will have taken note of that change in shape as he prepares his Chelsea team for Saturday’s trip to Old Trafford, but he cannot predict with any certainty how the Reds will line up – which is perhaps a slight psychological advantage, if you buy into that kind of thing.

Solskjaer and his coaches have a big decision to make in the coming days: stick with the back three that produced our best performance of the season and arguably our finest in Europe for years, or revert to the more traditional back four that has generally been favoured by the Norwegian? 

Peter Schmeichel heaped praise on Ole’s tactics in our latest episode of Tunnel Insider and Marcus Rashford was also quick to highlight the new shape in his own post-match interview, telling us:
“I think the manager got it spot on today. The system allowed us to express ourselves going forward and to be tight defensively, which I think we did as well as we could.”

Highlights: PSG 1 United 2Video

Indeed, last season showed how both systems can be effective against Chelsea: in August, on the opening day, Ole picked a traditional back four that kept a clean sheet in our 4-0 Old Trafford victory. The manager then mixed it up by utilising a back three in the Carabao Cup fourth-round win, Premier League success at Stamford Bridge and Emirates FA Cup semi-final defeat at Wembley. 

Form and fitness are usually deciding factors behind the starting XI and those elements are crucial when it comes to the topic of Axel Tuanzebe, who was genuinely amazing in midweek. 

The Rochdale-raised Academy graduate played his first competitive game since December 2019 and was many people’s Man of the Match, after bossing a star-studded front three of Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar with poise. His achievement was outstanding and, logically, that was him with ring rust, out-pointing three champions with ease. Can you imagine when he’s fighting fit?
Axel played a full 90, too, and afterwards spoke confidently about his physical conditioning.
“I’m feeling okay,”
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 me hard for these kind of moments, and it’s finally paid off.”
 

Ryan Giggs was partly responsible for bringing Axel into the first-team when he was Louis van Gaal’s assistant and the club legend is sure he will become a regular.
“All Axel has got to do now is stay fit, play games and when he does his confidence will grow because he has got all of the attributes to be a Man United centre-half,”
Giggs told the Webby and O’Neill YouTube show on Wednesday. 

Rio Ferdinand said on BT Sport that Tuanzebe has played his way into the starting XI, but you have to wonder how much his heroics in Paris will have taken out of him. Is he ready to start again just four days later and against another great European talent in Timo Werner? That remains to be seen. 

Axel: We're not here for the musicVideo

Solskjaer has already confirmed Eric Bailly is out for the next month with injury, while Harry Maguire is hoping to return from the issue that prevented him from travelling to Paris in midweek. The captain did not miss a minute of Premier League action last season and would have hated sitting out the European Cup tie in Paris, so he will undoubtedly be determined to face Chelsea if possible.

One would imagine Aaron wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw will definitely start, but in which positions and formation? It’s an interesting point of discussion as we approach Saturday’s huge Premier League match and, clearly, is a positive selection dilemma for the manager to ponder.

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Reflections on a superb win in Paris:

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