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Ben Thornley: Aliou Traore Man Utd future; Tuanzebe solution; Elanga excitement

The Tottenham Hotspur game was a game that Manchester United, not just the players themselves, but the manager and the coaching staff, would have come away from and been doing a lot of soul searching.

I think when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the team reported back after the international break, there would have been a lot of words, and there were going to be changes for the game on the Saturday against Newcastle.

I was there at St. James' Park and when you saw the team-sheet there were a few raised eyebrows with people that you perhaps didn't think were going to be included, but Ole got everything tactically absolutely spot on. Especially with the way he deployed Scott McTominay on the right-hand side to counteract the threat of Allan Saint-Maximin. He did exactly the same thing against PSG when he knew Neymar was going to pull into that area and he set the tone.

When you come off the back of a defeat like the one of Spurs, the manager is looking for a reaction from the team to see how they recover after such a debilitating defeat. And it made it doubly difficult when after two minutes you go a goal down at Newcastle and you think to yourself, are there heads going to drop.

But from then on United just dominated the game from beginning to end and it quite easily could have been six or seven. The second goal that we scored through Fernandes was reminiscent of the football we were playing back in June and July when we were blowing teams away, when we were scoring goals and looked dangerous every time we went forward, and that continued in exactly the same vein against PSG on Tuesday night.


I don't think even the most optimistic of United fans, with the start we have had, would have expected us to go there and come up against the likes of Mbappe and Neymar and go and beat them. This is a team who hadn't lost at home in the Champions League since 2004. But after Saturday, I think that there would have been a glimmer of hope there that if we turned out a performance like that, and I was one of those believers, we might stifle Paris Saint-Germain, but also use our attacking threat that we've got to cause them problems and that is exactly what happened.

Everything United did against Newcastle and PSG was something that would have made people sit up and take notice. I felt after Saturday's game that in the domestic league, with the way Chelsea are performing as well, as much as they've got a really good attacking threat, they will leak goals, that if we played anything like what we did against Newcastle, then against Chelsea this Saturday, I really do fancy our chances, as long as we don't let our standards drop from where they've been in these last two matches.


What I really love about Ole is that he is a firm believer in what he wants to employ.

Even before Saturday's game, we've had periods of his tenure when results haven't gone his way and the team hasn't performed. But when it gets to its most crucial stage, he's not afraid to make big decisions and the way that he has set up his teams tactically has been an absolute masterstroke.

Who would have thought, for instance on Saturday, that Juan Mata would come into the team, as brilliant as a technician as he is, and be the outstanding player on the field. Solskjaer did it again against PSG.

There were eyebrows raised again because Axel hadn't played a game since December last year against Colchester in a League Cup tie. He was one of the most outstanding contributors. On a couple of occasions, he not only stuck with Mbappe, but actually came away with the ball and left him flat on his backside.

I said before the start of last season after his spell at Aston Villa, which would have given him invaluable experience, that Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof would have to be looking over their shoulders and keeping their performances up with Axel Tuanzebe waiting in the wings. Unfortunately for the most part of last season he was injured.

People are crying out saying we've got to get a centre-half, but we've got Teden Mengi waiting in the wings and then all of a sudden Axel Tuanzebe comes back and he looks like an absolute Rolls Royce. He looks fit, he looks strong and if you're asking me now about the centre-back position, I'd say problem solved.

We do not need to go out and spend £50 or £60m on another defender because if Tuanzebe continues to put in performances like that, he will have to be seriously considered for a starting XI place.


In football in general, the old fashion winger has slowly died out with the numerous systems teams use. You rarely see people playing 4-4-2 anymore, and even when they do, you're not talking about a winger on one side and a winger on the other. But I always feel as though you've got to bring into the club those players that are going to provide you with that width and excitement, somebody who is going to get you off your seat.

Facundo Pellistri was on the bench against PSG, and Amad Diallo at Atalanta can't affect anything at the club until he arrives in January. But we have got similar players and wingers in the academy, certainly one who I'd like to mention in Anthony Elanga.

I've watched Anthony this season in the U23s. He's got blistering pace, two great feet and can score a goal. I don't think it will be long until he's knocking on the door of the first-team squad, and people will get a glimpse of what talent we've got coming through in those sort of positions.

With the addition of Traore and Pellistri, who I've heard a lot of very good things about, it will just give Manchester United that extra dimension to be able to play a different type of system.


I've watched Aliou Traore growing up through the U18s and U23s and I have seen him turn in some fabulous performances at both levels.

I think that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, in line with the players that he's brought in, thought that Traore wasn't quite ready for the first-team squad. But being able to send him out on loan will give him that valuable experience, and obviously in a country that he is used too, with a language that he is used too so that he can settle in straight away, and perhaps get the best out of him before bringing him.

After Traore's had a period of time playing regular first-team football, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will see if he's fit and ready to incorporate him into the first-team squad.

But we have got plenty of players who are knocking on the door, we've got a really good group of youngsters coming through that are just finding their feet in the top division of reserve team football. They are a very young side but they have had some positive results. Neil Wood and Nicky Butt are doing a terrific job and there will be plenty more to come from them over the course of the season.

Ben Thornley
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Ben Thornley

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