There was only one show in town when Manchester United’s Under-23s faced Blackburn on Friday night.
All roads led to Leigh Sports Village, yes, but also to Amad, the new signing from Atalanta (he has asked the media to drop the previous ‘Diallo’ from his name for personal reasons). Either way, the 18-year-old, who could cost United close to £40million if all the add-ons in his transfer fee are borne out, was always going to steal the show, even if nine of the ten goals scored in Friday night’s blockbuster didn’t come from his boot.
What the goal show against league-leaders Blackburn did prove, however, was that Amad is not alone as an attacking gem in the United youth ranks. Even discounting his fellow teenager Facundo Pellistri, who is now out on loan at Alaves, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has every right to be excited about the future of his attack.
The Norwegian has a warranted reputation for blooding young stars — as Mason Greenwood et al will attest to — and it was interesting that he name-checked Joe Hugill in a recent press conference, following the striker’s four goals in a 6-3 Under-23 defeat of Liverpool.
Hannibal Mejbri is a name very familiar to avid followers of United’s Under-23s and he’s been a mainstay of the side for a season and a half, since his €5million arrival from Monaco in 2019. That fee in itself could rise to €10million, a measure of the talents the teenager possesses, but it’s easy to forget Hannibal because of the stellar names that have arrived in the 18 months since his debut.
He is making himself difficult to ignore, despite the hype around Amad, with his recent displays.
It was his mesmerising solo effort that hit back for United make it 1-1 after Blackburn had opened the scoring through Connor McBride on Friday night. He then produced some brilliant battling midfield play, combined with the odd deft flick and pass, as his switched between the No.10 and left-wing roles — an increasing influence on the match.
There was another superb pass to set up Amad, to square for Shola Shoretire for United’s second goal and the interchanging of positions between the three attacking midfielders, behind Hugill, was a thing of beauty.
Under-23s boss Neil Wood was certainly impressed, though he’s keen for Hannibal— who has only just turned 18 — to get more protection from officials amid a volley of fouls from opposing defenders.
“Hannibal has lots of quality,” he told MEN Sport. “And a frustrating point for him is there must be about 15 fouls on him per game. And at some point, if the referees are not protecting him, he’s going to get his leg broken — that’s what I fear for him.
“He loves getting on the ball, he loves creating, and teams love to hack him down when they can.
“He’s doing really well, he’s been outstanding for the last couple of games. He was outstanding against Liverpool and I thought he was excellent again tonight [against Blackburn].”
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Manchester United smashed nine goals past Southampton on Tuesday night as they bounced back from disappointing results against Sheffield United and Arsenal in emphatic fashion.
The game was effectively over as a contest inside the first two minutes as Southampton were reduced to 10 men, but United still had to find the goals and they did exactly that, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial (two), Scott McTominay, Bruno Fernandes and Daniel James all getting on the scoresheet.
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Many elements of the Blackburn game frustrated Wood. There was some truly chaotic defending by United, who were without their erstwhile captain (Teden Mengi, now on loan at Derby) and another centre-back pillar in the injured Will Fish.
And Hannibal did not enjoy a perfect display by any means. He showed his frustration after United had been too easily bullied in conceding the fourth Blackburn goal of the night. Wood, as he often dos, had to issue a cajoling word or two from the touchline to the Frenchman.
It worked a dream for United as an attacking collective, with the goals then slowing as it went from 2-4 to 6-4 in the blink of an eye.
The headlines were all saved for Amad, who secured a hat-trick of assists, plus a goal. But Hannibal, and the 17-year-old Shoretire, who is another incredible young talent in this Under-23s side, deserve their fair share of plaudits, too.
The duo may just fly under the radar for the next few months while the new kid on the block gets all the attention.