The momen

tum Manchester United had built up on the back of four successive wins came to a juddering halt at Old Trafford as Erik ten Hag’s first European game with the club ended in defeat to Real Sociedad.

On a night when the football felt somewhat insignificant, United’s stand-ins failed to take their chance to impress their manager, even if it required the award of a very dubious penalty converted by Brais Mendez to settle this game in Sociedad’s favour. 

Ten Hag restored his star striker Cristiano Ronaldo and captain Harry Maguire to the starting XI for the first time since that debacle at Brentford last month and may be concerned that United lost the moment he changed a winning team.

It was certainly not the way Ronaldo would have wanted to mark his return to the team. If the Portugal forward had got his way this summer, he would have been playing Champions League, not Europa League football, this week but he blew an excellent chance to score 35 seconds after the restart and could not turn the tide in United’s favour.

Instead, it was another famous and familiar veteran who helped to swing the game, albeit with the help of some generous or, depending on your view, troubling officiating. 

David Silva won here five times as a Manchester City player and now has another Old Trafford victory to his name, the 36-year-old winning the contentious penalty from which Mendes scored. What a farcical decision it was, though.

Lisandro Martinez was only a few yards from Silva and rushing to close down the Sociedad midfielder’s shot when the ball ricocheted off his thigh on to his left elbow. It all happened in a split second. Martinez was not looking at the ball at that moment and could do nothing to stop it from hitting his arm but referee Marco Di Bello pointed to the spot. United must have believed the video assistant referee would come to their rescue but, perversely, Massimiliano Irrati upheld Di Bello’s decision. It seems the Premier League is not the only competition having issues with Var this season

There was some doubt initially if the game would go ahead after it was announced less than two hours before kick off that The Queen had sadly passed away at the age of 96. A minute’s silence, impeccably observed, was held before kick-off with the words “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – 1926-2022 – In Memoriam” appearing on the perimeter boards, which were then blacked out as a mark of respect. Flags were lowered and players from both teams wore black armbands.

Ten Hag made six changes to the team that beat Arsenal on Sunday. Along with Ronaldo and Maguire, Fred was afforded his first start since the 4-0 capitulation at Brentford and new £70 million signing Casemiro his first start for the club after three substitute outings totalling just 51 minutes. United should have had comfortably enough on the pitch to win but, despite their intent, chances were thin on the ground, the final ball was lacking and when Sociedad went in front just before the hour Ten Hag’s side suddenly found themselves chasing the game. They did not look convincing doing that, either.

It might have been a smoother ride had Ronaldo not steered a close range header from Bruno Fernandes’ perfect cross wide immediately after the interval but it summed up a night of frustration for the 37-year-old, who had scored with a much harder header in the first half only to be correctly ruled offside. 

Ten Hag had begun the game with Fred pushed high upfield behind Ronaldo in an uncharacteristically advanced role. The Brazilian was a willing runner out of possession but dismal on the ball. Ten Hag abandoned the experiment at half-time, dropped Fred deeper and brought on birthday boy Fernandes for Christian Eriksen, who had been United’s best player but needs managing after so much football.

For all the changes, though, the picture remained the same, United huffing and puffing and producing little of note.  

Match details

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea 6; Dalot 6 (Martinez ht), Maguire 6, Lindelof 6, Malacia 6 (McNeill 83); Casemiro 6, Eriksen 7 (Fernandes ht); Antony 6 (Sancho 71), Fred 5, Elanga 6 (Garnacho 71); Ronaldo 6. Not used: Heaton, Dubravka, Varane, Wan-Bissaka, Fredricson, McTominay, Iqbal. Booked: Martinez, Fred, De Gea.

Real Sociedad (4-3-2-1): Remiro 6; Gorosabel 6 (Sola 84), Elustondo 7, Pacheco 7, Munoz 7; Mendez 7 (Turrientes 84), Zubimendi 7, Merino 7; Silva 7 (Cho 65), Kubo 7 (Barrenetxea 78); Ulmar 6 (Sorloth ht). Not used: Zubiaurre, Sola, Illarramendi, Zubeldia, Guevara, Navarro, Gonzalez, Karrikaburu. Booked: Munoz, Silva, Turrientes.

Referee: Marco Di Bello (Italy)


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