Axel Tuanzebe has been sidelined with a foot injury since mid-December and isn’t expected to return until the end of February. The defender’s last game for Aston Villa came seven weeks ago against Stoke City, and his chances of returning to the starting eleven could be slim given how many changes Dean Smith has made to the playing squad.
Tuanzebe has made 19 Championship appearances since re-joining the Midlands club on loan from Manchester United. The 21-year-old has impressed under both Steve Bruce and Smith, but he will have stiff competition for places when he does make his eventual return in the coming weeks. Villa now have five central defenders fighting for just two spots in the team.
Amid a previous injury crisis to the defence, Smith recalled Tommy Elphick from his loan spell at Hull City, signed Kortney Hause on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers and signed Tyrone Mings on loan from Bournemouth. He revealed in a pre-match press conference that he’s happy to have two left-footed centre-backs and two right-footers to balance out the side.
Mings and Hause can play on the left-hand side, Elphick and Chester can play on the right. But where does Tuanzebe fit in? The England u21 international was a regular alongside Chester earlier in the season, but he might find himself struggling for minutes for the remainder of the campaign.
If Smith wants a left-footer and right-footer partnership at the back, one of Mings/Hause has to start with one of Chester/Elphick. It’s hard to see Tuanzebe eventually replacing club-captain Chester on the right-hand side, so he might have to be patient for opportunities.