Axel-lent Tuanzebe is Manchester United’s answer: Neil Humphreys
In his first outing this year, youngster gives lopsided defence speed and width
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got it wrong in the most spectacular way. He insisted that the Miracle of Paris was unrepeatable.
But Manchester United benefited from a second Miracle of Paris of sorts yesterday morning (Singapore time), when Axel Tuanzebe outran Kylian Mbappe. Twice.
Defenders rarely leave the Paris Saint-Germain superstar trailing in a foot race. Hardly anyone repeats the trick.
Tuanzebe turned up in Paris as an unheralded rookie and left as a welcome solution for Solskjaer's defensive crisis.
The United manager probably expected a centre-back to dominate this week's headlines. Harry Maguire is searching for whatever he left behind on a Greek island and still managed to cause a scare in Paris.
He didn't play. A small muscle tear ruled him out of the Champions League game, which left United without both Maguire and Eric Bailly.
The prospect of facing Mbappe, Neymar and Angel di Maria without key centre-backs forced Solskjaer into a 3-4-1-2 system, effectively playing seven defensive players and hoping for chances on the break.
Against the odds, it worked. But Solskjaer's tactical triumph owed just as much to an astonishing performance from Tuanzebe, who offered qualities almost forgotten in a United defence.
The 22-year-old is preternaturally athletic. His ability to match Mbappe evoked memories of Rio Ferdinand.
It's no surprise that the retired centre-back focused on Tuanzebe's athleticism in his commentary, recognising a kindred spirit, a leggy defender that's deceptively quick.
Such a defender won Liverpool the Champions League and English Premier League trophies in consecutive seasons.
The sudden absence of that defender is why alarm bells are now ringing across Merseyside and a wide-eyed Jamie Carragher continues to appear on TV looking like a rabid dog.
Without such a gifted, athletic centre-back, titles are conceded. A single game doesn't turn Tuanzebe into Virgil van Dijk - even if United's academy graduate tucked Mbappe into his pocket like a pet hamster - but the win in Paris did demonstrate his impeccable timing.
For much of this season, Maguire has chased his own tail. Bailly is out with a long-term injury. Victor Lindelof and consistency remain uneasy bedfellows and Luke Shaw can deputise, but only on the left side.
United have a hole down their right side, one that revealed itself as an ugly, gaping wound in their 6-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur.
Tuanzebe closed that gap against PSG. Indeed, his display allowed Aaron Wan-Bissaka to wander forward with increasing confidence.
Necessity is the mother of invention and Solskjaer presumably threw in a rusty rookie almost as a last resort, hoping for the best but fearing another Tottenham debacle.
He strung four anchormen across the halfway line for a reason. He wasn't sure if Tuanzebe was up to the task, which was a fair assumption.
Since his debut in 2017, Tuanzebe's precocious talent has suffered growing pains. Niggling injuries blighted his progress, both at United and during loan spells at Aston Villa.
His last appearance in a United jersey was neither recent nor remarkable. He featured in a League Cup win against Colchester United last December. He was far enough down the pecking order to be practically forgotten.
No one was clamouring for his name to be on the team sheet. Injury-prone defenders are not usually the solution to a problem like Mbappe.
But there had been signs. When Tuanzebe made his competitive debut in a friendly as an 18-year-old, Jose Mourinho singled him out for praise.
"With Axel, 10 minutes is enough," said the then-United manager. "The potential is there, you see it immediately."
Others didn't. Four years passed before Tuanzebe announced his arrival. It was worth the wait. He offers the priceless asset of defensive width.
In their 6-1 victory, Spurs' Harry Kane and Son Heung-min exploited the space along United's channels, cutting inside and spinning Maguire like a carousel.
As Ferdinand pointed out, opponents defeat the Red Devils by dragging them towards the touchlines. Width and pace have been keenly missed at Old Trafford.
Maguire, in particular, has suffered from incisive forwards drifting outside and exposing him as a more conventional, meat and potatoes kind of centre-back. He mostly gets the job done, but a foot race with Mbappe would probably pull him out of his comfort zone.
So a lengthy spell in the first team may beckon for Tuanzebe. He fills a literal space in Maguire and Bailly's absence, but should also offer a more substantial tactical option by balancing the right side of a lopsided defence.
There were shades of Ferdinand's physical dominance, but Tuanzebe must also show a similar mental tenacity to complete the package.
He's already stormed the stage. Now he's got to own it.