Manchester United made it back-to-back wins in Premier League with a 5-2 demolition of Brighton & Hove Albion on Friday afternoon. Goals came from Hannibal Mejbri, Shola Shoretire, Mark Helm, Alvaro Fernandez and Arnau Puigmal.
Four players stood out in particular in an impressive display from Neil Wood’s under-23s side.
Arnau Puigmal – 2 assists, 1 goal from United utility player
This was one of Puigmal’s best displays for Manchester United. The Catalan started the game at right-wing-back and offered United plenty in both directions. A couple of crucial tackles broke up Brighton’s rare attacks in the first half and from those interventions, Puigmal burst forward with care and efficiency.
He assisted United’s first goal, receiving the ball from Ethan Galbraith, stepping forward and perfectly pushing it into Hannibal Mejbri’s path. He finished. The third goal, too, was made by Puigmal. This time he received it from Elanga, took it to the byline and carefully slotted it across the face of goal for Mark Helm to tap in.
United changed the formation in the second half and Puigmal moved into the centre. He excelled there too, scoring United’s fifth and final goal after a Mejbri pass.
It was a fine performance overall, in defence and attack. Puigmal is one of the more senior heads in this under-23s squad and this was a leader’s display.
Ethan Galbraith – the U23s facilitator
Substituted late in the game, Galbraith is a real pleasure to watch. He loves to have the ball and that’s an often underrated quality. When he has it, things are pretty simple. Galbraith retains possession very well, keeps his composure and – when he can – finds the vertical passes through the lines into the space between the defence and midfield.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of that is Hannibal Mejbri who often occupies that space in the pockets. Galbraith constantly recycles possession and gives Mejbri the chance to excel himself. It’s what he does for all his teammates; give them a chance to be better by always giving them the right ball at the right time.
The Northern Irishman recently signed a new contract at United and has been called up for his country’s senior squad.
Hannibal Mejbri – a player ahead of his years
After so many good performances for Manchester United’s youth teams, it’s very easy to forget that Mejbri is still only 17. He was one of the youngest players on the pitch in the under-23s match, as he always is, but it’s difficult to notice.
It’s the mental side of Mejbri’s game that is so impressive given his age. The technical ability is there, of course. He’s got good passing, a decent shot and excellent ball control. But the vision he shows, the composure he offers in midfield and how he sees the game is ahead of his years.
Mejbri is, at 17, consistently one of United’s best players in the U23s. His development is going very well.
Alvaro Fernandez – second-half brilliance from summer signing
The Spanish full-back was signed from Real Madrid this summer and he built on a solid first-half performance with a brilliant second-half display.
Fernandez carries the ball forward very well. As United conceded two quick goals after the break, Fernandez was key in re-asserting his side’s dominance. He pushed forward, over the halfway line and gave it to players like Puigmal and Mejbri to continue the attack. It prevented Brighton from continuing their assault on United’s goal.
And as the game progressed, it provided the foundations on which United could extend their lead back to three goals. Fernandez scored the fourth himself, a long-range strike after finding space inside of that left-wing position. He’d run 40 metres before scoring it from 20 yards out. It was he who began the move for the fifth, too.