Man Utd have unearthed a Park Ji-sung regen – he’s the answer to their midfield crisis
On an evening where ‘win by any means necessary’ was an understatement, Manchester United fans could be pleased with a 1-0 win away at Burnley after the start to the season they’ve made.
That sounds incredibly weird considering the expectation of the Red Devils, but Erik ten Hag’s luck is out and when it rains, it pours.
From a frustrating transfer window to ownership issues hanging over his head, the Dutchman has also had to navigate an injury crisis involving new signings, key players and both of his left-backs. Oh, he’s also lost both of his right-wingers, too.
It’s been a bleak few weeks for United, who’ve become the kings of putting together a strong first 20 minutes before inevitably fading and playing some woeful football.
But away at Turf Moor, they weathered the storm and thanks to heroics from Bruno Fernandes and Jonny Evans – no, seriously – United found a way to leave with all three points. Says a lot when they’re relying on Evans to put in a shift and carry them through a game in 2023.
Amid the delicious, Van Persie-esque strike from Fernandes and an Evans clinic that looked straight out of the Fergie playbook was a quietly impressive and all-action performance in the midfield – something United fans have been begging for since they kicked off their season at home to Wolves.
Mason Mount and Kobbie Mainoo were expected to play a key role for Ten Hag this season but have instead been warming the treatment table thus far, as had new recruit Sofyan Amrabat until his debut late in the game against Burnley. That left United going back to an ageing Casemiro and Christian Eriksen, as well as wantaway Scott McTominay.
Enter Hannibal Mejbri, who turned up to Turf Moor with a chip on his shoulder and a rare chance to impress from the start, which he absolutely did.
Making his debut in 2021, he was promoted to the first team under Ralf Rangnick, but quickly became known for his willingness to run, foul and not much else.
He spent last season on loan at Birmingham City and took the Championship by storm, however, and appears to have returned to United a much better and more well-rounded player for his efforts. Thrust into the XI after missing out against Bayern Munich, the 20-year-old was essentially tasked with doing everybody else’s running and matching Fernandes’ energy from box to box.
To the delight of United fans, the kid did absolutely that in a subtle yet commanding display.
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Playing the entire game, what was perhaps most impressive about his performance was how seamlessly he slotted into the side.
Given how dire United have been in the middle of the park, the old fella who never leaves the stool at the bar in your local probably reckons he could put a shift in for them at the moment, which says a lot, but that shouldn’t detract from Hannibal’s display, which oozed a perfect blend of confidence, tenacity and technical ability – the latter trait being something he’s struggled to show at senior level for United until now.
Be it smashing into opposition players, putting on the afterburners from box to box or knitting together slick transitions with an array of passes, watching Hannibal against Burnley with Evans also in the side felt like the Red Devils had put Park Ji-sung in a curly wig and given him a runout.
Is Park the sexiest name to be compared to? Probably not. But if Hannibal can continue putting in performances like he did against Burnley, he’ll be viewed as the heir to the South Korean’s throne in no time, and that is certainly not a bad thing given just how important he was to United under Ferguson.
It’s baby steps of course, and United still have plenty of work to do, but they might just have found their hidden gem.
By Mitch Wilks