Teden Mengi is expected to make his debut for Manchester United in the Europa League against LASK tonight.
United are 5-0 up from the away leg, and Mengi sits only behind Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly in the pecking order due to injuries and loans, and Ole Gunnar is likely to rotate his side.
Ahead of Mengi’s first team debut, here is a look at his journey over the past 12 months at Old Trafford.
Mengi made his debut at just 17 for Manchester United’s under-23 side in a win over Newcastle on August 25 2019.
We wrote at the time: “Manchester United youngster Teden Mengi put in an outstanding debut for the under-23 side. Mengi, 17, was called up for United’s visit to Newcastle on Friday night.
“The young centre-back did not put a foot wrong as United won 4-0 at St James’ Park. This was just the start for Mengi’s next step at United and it could not have gone better.
“He was strong in the air, he read the game well, making key interceptions, and his pace was noticeable.
“Mengi is comfortable in possession, a good passer of the ball, and has guaranteed himself more starts for the under-23s.
A new contract followed
Mengi was rewarded with his first professional contract on September 20, and he posted on Instagram, “the hard work continues,” expressing his happiness at making the next step.
We wrote at the time: “He’s showed a goalscoring ability in younger age groups and non-league tournaments though now he is a commanding centre-back. His height and aerial ability are a key attribute in his defensive ability but, playing in the same U16s side as Mason Greenwood, Mengi often popped up with a set-piece goal.”
An ACL injury to Luca Ercolani at under-23 level accelerated Mengi’s game time, although it would have been hard to hold him back.
When United fielded a mix of first team stars and under-23s against Astana in the Europa League in November, Mengi was the youngest player in the travelling squad.
He was an unused substitute, with Dishon Bernard preferred. Mengi has now overtaken the 19-year-old in the pecking order.
FA Youth Cup exploits
Mengi’s finest moments of the season would come as he dropped back down to captain Manchester United’s under-18s in the FA Youth Cup.
The teenager led United to victories over Lincoln City, Norwich City, Leeds United and Wigan Athletic, before the lockdown indefinitely postponed the tournament with United at the semi-final stage.
Mengi was consistently strong defensively as United conceded just one goal in 360 minutes of football. He popped up to score one himself, a captain’s header in the 2-0 victory over Norwich.
United’s biggest test came in the match against Leeds, and Mengi was one of the team’s standout players in a hard fought win.
We wrote at the time: “On an occasion like this one, a good captain should step up and drag his team forward. Teden Mengi did exactly that.
“At just 17, he’s a regular in the under-23s set-up. Playing at that level has helped his reading of the game to improve greatly at a quick rate. That was on show on Wednesday evening but so was his on-ball ability.
“He opened the game with a wonderful curved cross field pass into the path of Hannibal Mejbri. That was United’s best chance of the first half and although Mejbri missed it, it was a testament to Mengi’s quality from defence.
“Rather than his attacking quality, it was Mengi’s defensive timing and interceptions that helped United maintain their victory.”
Turning 18 and post-lockdown recognition
Mengi celebrated his 18th birthday during the lockdown on April 30, and his off pitch efforts impressed the club coaches.
Under-23s coach Neil Wood told the MEN in May that United felt Mengi was ready to be fast-tracked: “Teden has been fantastic. He came up to us quite early on in the season and, a bit like Brandon (Williams) in a sense, he came from the 18s and took his chance.
“He played really well and he kept his place in the team. And when he dropped back down at the end of the season to lead the Youth Cup team, he put in some excellent performances there.
“We’ll be looking to work with him next season and he’s one [player] we want to ‘do a Brandon’ with, push him on and the goal is to try and get him pushed up into that first team if we can.”
That opportunity with the first team came even more quickly that Wood may have anticipated.
The centre-back was invited to train with United’s first team squad at the start of June after Phil Jones picked up an injury, and Axel Tuanzebe’s injury also moved him a step closer to the first team.
Speaking at the start of July, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he had seen enough of Mengi to know the teenager will considered for the first team next season too.
Solskjaer told the club website: “To have a few months’ training with the first team now, in the summer, tests him, and, to be fair to the boy, he’s deserved it because he is an exciting talent, but he was desperate to come in.
“He keeps in touch with the coaches and he was always ready when we asked him: ‘Are you ready to come in, are you fit enough?’ And he worked hard over the lockdown.
“He’s done really well, he doesn’t seem out of place, so he’ll definitely be more and more in and around the first team next season as well.”
You can see from training images that Mengi gives little away physically against senior players, and he is ready to take his chance.
United’s 5-0 win against LASK gives the second leg the feel of a warm-up game, and it is beneficial to give fringe players a chance, while resting over-used first choice players.
If Tuanzebe had been fit, it would have been he and Eric Bailly starting this one, but he is not, and the opportunity falls to Mengi, who wears United’s number 71 shirt.
He is a player who United’s coaches and supporters are both excited about and confident in, and we expect to see him shine tonight. Even if he finds it tough against a senior Europa League side with a point to prove, this game will be an invaluable experience for him.
Just to be involved at 18 is testament and reward for to his ability and hard work over the past 12 months, and the next leg of his journey begins now.
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