Juan Mata made a rare start in Manchester United’s third-round Carabao Cup exit against West Ham, but surely the Spaniard’s place should have been instead given as an opportunity for Hannibal Mejbri.

Playing just in front of Donny van de Beek and Nemanja Matic in a midfield three, Mata showcased the odd moment of technical quality notably where his first time strike crashed off the bar in the first half, but he struggled to impose himself on the match.

Unless the former World Cup and Champions League winner has a wealth of movement and pace in front of him, it’s hard to see how Mata is going to hurt teams.

He’s always going to be capable of deft little passes in the penalty area but on too many occasions he was on the periphery of the game or lost possession too cheaply.

Hannibal Mejbri should have played

Manchester United U23 v Manchester City EDS: Premier League 2
(Photo by Manchester United/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Unlike his academy teammates Teden Mengi and Shola Shoretire, Hannibal played no part in Tuesday’s EFL Trophy win against Bradford City due to his red card against Lincoln.

 

The Tunisian international could have played in a midfield three alongside Matic and van de Beek and brought some much-needed energy, exuberance and guile to United’s stale midfield.

With the academy staff impressed with Hannibal’s physical attributes and them seeing his future being in central midfield, his omission seems bizarre.

Manchester United v West Ham United - Carabao Cup Third Round
(Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

He may flourish in the EFL Trophy and UEFA Youth League, but it’s hard to see when his second first team appearance will come after making his debut against Wolves on the last day of the Premier League season in May.

Hannibal is a talent that needs to be unleashed, he would have made mistakes, but he is a risk-taking player and that’s what United’s ethos and DNA is built on.

Juan Mata has had an amazing career, there is no getting away from that, but it seems his inclusion in the starting line-up ahead of Hannibal was nothing more than a token gesture on Solskjaer’s part.

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