“I’m here to help us get promoted. The push for second place is more important than trying to make play-offs” – Axel Tuanzebe
Axel Tuanzebe Arrives
The arrival of 20-year-old Axel Tuanzebe from Manchester United is an intriguing loan signing, offering up more questions than the transfer actually provides answers.
Tuanzebe certainly talked a good game in his interviews when he was announced, repeating that his main aim was to help the team earn an automatic promotion spot.
Talk is cheap though when it comes to earning promotion, so how will his signing help Villa get back to the Premier League?
“The potential is there, you see it immediately,” said Jose Mourinho, of the United youngster, but future potential isn’t much currency to Villa. With it only being a loan for the rest of this season, Villa will need him to perform in the now.
The player surely would have only come to Villa if he and Mourinho had some reassurance from Steve Bruce, that he had the possibility of getting some decent game time.
Tuanzebe has only played five league games for United, so he is still raw at senior level. The loan from his and United’s point of view is to obviously address that.
Tuanzebe’s preferred roles are centre-back and defensive midfielder (he also made a start at right-back for the United first team), but you can’t see him being a starter in either position when he’s up against the former or present international players currently playing for Villa in those positions.
James Chester and John Terry as the centre-back partnership is set in stone. While Villa are spending a lot on wages on the three players – Mile Jedinak, Glenn Whelan and now Birkir Bjarnason – who cover the DM position.
One possibility for his loan could be a last attempt of Bruce to go with three at the back, adding Tuanzebe’s athletic and dynamic nature to help support Terry’s ageing limbs (think how Gareth Barry started out in a similar capacity for Villa).
This would also allow the Villa boss to play his favoured two up front.
But why make such changes now? When the players are finally getting to grips with each other as a team in the current system?
With his versatility and the fact he was United’s Reserve Player of the Year for 2017, certainly the United loanee would be useful cover for numerous permutations, especially, if Bruce is expecting some out-goings at the end of the transfer window.
This brings us to the initial point of raising questions, is Tuanzebe arriving due to the fact that players will be departing in the final week?
Ritchie De Laet has gone, so that’s one player he can cover, but Villa already have options at right-back and overall they have depth in the squad.
Is the signing a clear indication that Tommy Elphick is actually heading out?
There’s already been rumours of Millwall and Leeds showing an interest in the centre-back. His recent improved showings for Villa and kudos from his Bournemouth days, would probably see Villa recoup an ok fee.
We haven’t really had a definitive status report on Jedinak’s injury status. One week, it’s he might need surgery, the next week, it’s he just needs to be rested.
The truth of the matter is Jedinak has been a bit-part player this season and his reliability is questionable.
Maybe signing Tuanzebe is an indication that the Aussie may have surgery, as he attempts to be 100% for the World Cup?
Bjarnason has already done a U-turn this January transfer window. After being frozen out from the team, the Icelandic international was understandably looking for a move to Italy, but after recently breaking through into the first team he declared he wanted to stay.
Has there been a decent offer for him since? In the three or so days the Villa players were given off after the Barnsley game, Bjarnason headed off to spend time in Italy…
The plot thickens.
There’s been constant mutterings in the press of Josh Onomah potentially moving back to his parent club Spurs. He’s shown flashes of quality, but now faces tough competition to get back into the first team due to Jack Grealish’s emergence.
If he goes, then Tuanzebe is another midfield option to counter his absence.
When you think about it, if Onomah returned to Spurs and Villa off-loaded either Elphick or Bjarnason, with De Laet already gone, a few holes in the squad would soon appear.
Factor in Jedinak’s dubious fitness at the moment, and Tuanzebe could be covering two to four players that have made minimal contributions this season, at a fraction of the cost.
His arrival does seem to point to the final days of the transfer window having some life left in them in terms of out-goings for Villa.
At the moment, it seems Axel Tuanzebe’s role is certainly at least that of a squad security blanket.