United Briefing: Tuanzebe has his eyes on the prize
Axel Tuanzebe wants Manchester United to win the Europa League trophy in May and erase the memory for the Reds of last August’s semi-final disappointment against Sevilla in Cologne.
The Reds are into the last 16 and a step closer to the final in Poland at the end of the season after our goalless draw at Old Trafford was enough to get past Real Sociedad following the 4-0 first-leg win in Turin last week.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were knocked out last summer at the penultimate hurdle, but now Tuanzebe has his eyes on the prize on 26 May in the Gdansk showpiece.
“We want to win the competition. We are in it to compete. What is the point in being in it to just play in it? We want to win,” he said.
“It was disappointing to get knocked out of the Champions League so this is the second best thing.”
And the 23-year-old believes United are now into their stride as a group. “It takes a while to get momentum going, it takes a while to have faith in players, to have faith in the manager and I think this season especially, we’re starting to build that,” added Axel.
“It’s not something that’s done in a year or two, it’s a long project. We’re just having faith in our players, having faith in our coaching staff and the results are starting to come through and hopefully we’ll just build on that.”
As well as the Sevilla setback in Europe, the Reds also suffered semi-final exits in the Carabao Cup last season and this and the FA Cup last term. But those disappointments are driving United on.
“They’ll always stay with you, it’s a learning curve, it’s an experience,” Axel said.
“You don’t want to feel like that again, that’ the most important thing and you always remember the feeling of losing – even more so than winning. You try your best and do everything to ensure that doesn’t happen again.”
Versatile Tuanzebe was employed as a central midfielder against Real Sociedad and is happy to dig in for Solskjaer anywhere.
“My season has been up and down I’d say. I started with an injury, but I'm picking my way back up,” he says.
“I just need to get more minutes, get momentum and see where I finish and probably have a stronger end to the season.
“Yes, I can play several positions. My preferred role is centre-back but if the manager wants me to play to do a job for the team, I will do a job because we want to win trophies this season and if I have to fill in in a certain spot then I will do so.”
Tuanzebe, who came on as a sub at the interval against the Spaniards, thought he’d scored his first-ever senior United goal and broken the deadlock but his header in the 63rd minute was ruled out by Belgian referee Lawrence Visser after he reviewed the goal on the pitchside monitor. Victor Lindelof was adjudged to have fouled in the build up.
“It is something you dream about as a little boy and you’d love the Stretford End to be full of people but it wasn’t but it was still a special moment. It was just a shame it was ruled out,” he reflected.
“I had no idea [why it was ruled out]. But the referee has to do his job and that is not something we get involved in, you just respect the decision and get on with it.”
See the trending dressing room reaction, after United made it to the Europa League last 16.
WHAT'S HAPPENING TODAY?
Attention now turns to Friday's draw - where we'll discover our opponents for the last 16. See which other 15 sides have made it here.
Chelsea are next up on Sunday, and we'll have a preview of the game at Stamford Bridge, as well as the latest team news ahead of that crunch clash in the Premier League.
Keep your eyes peeled too for a Tobin Heath exclusive, ahead of Sunday's big I Love United event.
WHAT HAPPENED YESTERDAY?
United drew 0-0 with Real Sociedad to make it through to the last 16 of the Europa League, with Shola Shoretire becoming our youngest-ever European player.
Aside from events on the pitch, we covered the five-year anniversary of Marcus Rashford's debut for the club with this long read, from the matchday programme. There was also a feature from his interview with Dean Henderson, on who he practises penalties against.