Looking to pick up their fifth win on the bounce, Manchester United welcomed Real Sociedad to Old Trafford for their Europa League opener on Thursday night (September 8). Much to the home fans’ dismay, however, the Red Devils failed to recapture their bubbling Premier League form and ended up succumbing to a 1-0 defeat to Sociedad. Brais Mendez’s controversial second-half penalty ended up being the difference between the two teams.
Manchester United started the game brightly and carved out their first chance in the 14th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo got on top of a loose ball and dashed his way into the Sociedad box. The Portuguese tried to cut inside center-back Aritz Elustondo, but his right-back partner Andoni Gorosabel recovered to knock the ball away to his keeper Alex Remiro.
Nine minutes later, Anthony Elanga cut the ball back for Fred, who was lurking inside the box. The Brazilian let fly, but his left-footed effort was blocked and sent behind for a corner by Mikel Merino. Sociedad created their first notable goalscoring opportunity in the 27th minute when David Silva teed up Mendez inside the United box. The forward took his shot first time and narrowly missed David de Gea’s right post.
Ronaldo brilliantly found the back of the net with a perfectly-timed header in the 35th minute. Unfortunately for the former Real Madrid man, the linesman chalked out his goal for offside.
In the 57th minute, Silva saw his shot bounce off Lisandro Martinez’s arm, after taking a massive deflection from his leg. The referee, quite harshly, awarded Sociedad a penalty, which Mendez convincingly put away, finding the bottom-right corner.
Eight minutes later, substitute Bruno Fernandes whipped in a sumptuous cross for Casemiro at the far post. The Brazilian disappointingly directed his header to the ground and saw it bounce up and over the crossbar. Before the last blast of the whistle, Casemiro, Ronaldo, and Alejandro Garnacho tried to find the back of the net for Manchester United. Their efforts lacked the quality needed to breach Sociedad’s rearguard.
The game ended 1-0 in Sociedad’s favor, marking Erik ten Hag’s first European defeat in charge of the club. Here are three United players who failed to pull their weight and two who tried their best to do the crest proud:
Antony made his debut for Manchester United in a 3-1 win over Arsenal on Sunday (September 4). The Brazilian scored an excellent goal and kept the Gunners on their toes with his driving runs into the final third.
Fans had hoped for another encouraging performance from their marquee signing against Sociedad, but the winger was nowhere close to fulfilling their expectations.
He opened his bag of tricks on multiple occasions but lacked the end product. He lost possession quite frequently, could not create chances for his teammates, and barely got involved in proceedings. Before being taken off in the 71st minute, Antony lost five ground duels, ceded possession 13 times, made no key passes, and misplaced his only attempted cross.
Performed: Lisandro Martinez
The unfortunate penalty incident aside, second-half substitute Lisandro Martinez had a brilliant game. He intercepted passes, made tackles, was strong in his duels, and always looked for ways to help his teammates up top.
Martinez also showed superb awareness by cutting out Takefuso Kubo’s cross from the left in the 55th minute. Had it not been for his clearance, Alexander Sorloth would have had a tap-in from point-blank range.
In the second half, Martinez made two interceptions, attempted three tackles, won all four of his ground duels, and made a key pass. He also completed a dribble and delivered two accurate long balls.
With Casemiro acting as the team’s defensive cover, Ten Hag deployed Fred in a more advanced role against Sociedad. The positional switch afforded him more freedom, but the Brazilian midfielder could not make the most of it. He failed to threaten the Spanish outfit with his attacking play and, as a result, was dropped deeper in the second half.
On Thursday night, Fred lost possession 15 times, failed to lodge a single shot on target, and misplaced 10 (35 of 45 successful) passes. He also committed two fouls, one of which deservedly earned him a yellow card (on Martin Zubimendi, 83rd minute).
Performed: Christian Eriksen
Former Tottenham Hotspur star Christian Eriksen has easily been the signing of the season for Manchester United. Having impressed in his recent Premier League displays, Eriksen once again put in a commendable shift against Sociedad on Thursday. He was at the heart of every positive passage of play in the first half, kept the ball moving, and fashioned a couple of good openings.
Before being shockingly taken off at half-time, Eriksen gave two key passes, accurately delivered three of four long balls, and completed a cross. He left the field with 84.6% passing accuracy, completing 22 passes.
Underperformed: Cristiano Ronaldo
Starting only in his second game of the season (after Brentford), Cristiano Ronaldo cut a dejected figure at the top of United’s attack. The Portuguese superstar was heavily involved but simply lacked the quality to make the most of the chances he got.
In the 46th minute, Fernandes delivered a teasing cross into the Sociedad box. Ronaldo leapt to meet it but horribly mistimed his header, sending it behind for a goal kick. It was a relatively easy chance, especially for a man who is widely hailed as one of the best headers of the ball.
In the Group E opener, Ronaldo failed to lodge a single shot on target, misplaced both his attempted crosses, and lost five of six aerial duels. He also ceded possession nine times, committed a foul, and was caught offside a whopping four times, including when he found the back of the net (35th minute).