As Manchester United put in their first clinical performance of the season, efficiently dispatching Crystal Palace 3-0 in the Carabao Cup, two young hopefuls grabbed a big share of the limelight – Hannibal Mejbri and Facu Pellistri.
Mejbri made the headlines for running 12.9km in the game, which is more than any United player since records started being collected in 2019.
He also made 104 presses, the most by any Premier League player this season.
Pellistri, meanwhile, has been earning plaudits for his recent performances, with many fans on social media lauding him as an upgrade on the disgraced Jadon Sancho and Antony.
Injuries and other absences left Erik ten Hag with little option other than to give the two youngsters a chance, and it was certainly worth seeing what they have to offer. But despite claims that they have both done enough to earn a regular place in the first team (for example, from Sky Sports), question marks must still hover over each.
First, Hannibal. He scored a superb goal for United against Arsenal and his work rate, as demonstrated by the figures above, certainly is impressive. But to be a Manchester United player, you need more than workrate.
His figures for his 58 minutes of Premier League action this season do show some level of effectiveness, but Tuesday’s figures look remarkably bare despite all that running and pressing: zero shots, zero key passes, zero big chances created.
Pellistri has good technique and is another hard worker, but his season stats so far make for grim reading: 13 minutes’ football in the Premier League, 81 minutes in the Champions League and 90 minutes in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday have yielded zero goals, zero assists, zero big chances created, zero key passes, zero accurate long balls and one big chance missed.
Neat and tidy his performances may have been, but these figures speak to a total lack of danger as an attacker.
Hannibal will be 21 years old in January and Pellistri is already 21. This places them 18 months – 2 years older than, say, Alejandro Garnacho, 3 years older than Kobbie Mainoo, and just a few months younger than Mason Greenwood. Two years older than Paul Pogba was when he moved to Juventus the first time.
Obviously, different players develop at different paces and the pair are still in the early stages of their journeys. But are either of them any better than, say, Jesse Lingard, or Andreas Pereira, or Anthony Elanga were at the same age? Are we looking at two more “close, but no cigar” academy graduates who will have good careers without setting the world on fire?
It will be interesting to compare and contrast Mainoo and Amad Diallo’s impact on first team duty with these two when they return from injury.
That final leap from starlet to star at a club like Manchester United is undoubtedly the hardest of them all. Hannibal and Pellistri are tantalisingly close to making it, but it feels as if there needs to be a little bit more magic on display for either of them to really make the grade.