Erik ten Hag’s call to make wholesale changes didn’t work as Manchester United lost their opening Europa League match against Real Sociedad.
The Spanish outfit didn’t have to do much to record their first win over an English opponent. Their match-winning goal came through a questionable penalty decision after the ball deflected off Lisandro Martinez’s body onto his hand.
The VAR’s failure to overturn the referee’s call was frustrating, but Ten Hag’s selection and game-management didn’t help his side’s cause either. The decision to deploy Fred as a number 10, withdraw Christian Eriksen at half-time, and leave Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch until the end all backfired.
To Ten Hag’s credit, he has shown he’s not afraid to take bold decisions, and has resisted starting Ronaldo in five of United’s first six Premier League outings. He has also regularly benched captain Harry Maguire.
However, against Sociedad, the Dutchman tinkered with his frontline, benching Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford in favour of Anthony Elanga and Ronaldo, and was made to pay for his experiment.
Elanga didn’t provide Sancho’s vision and composure in the final third, while Ronaldo justified the Dutchman’s decision to overlook him in the league by delivering a dreadful performance.
United looked disjointed going forward with Ronaldo as their striker. He had a first-half goal ruled out for offside because of his poor positioning.
The 37-year-old clearly didn’t relish the first Europa League appearance of his career and got worse as the game progressed. He looked to be in discomfort towards the end and should’ve been hooked by Ten Hag.
Cristiano Ronaldo will forever be the GOAT but unfortunately all good things must come to an end.
What ever future he has left at Manchester United should be as an impact sub.
— ًEllis. (@UtdEIIis) September 8, 2022
▪️ Zero goals scored
▪️ 297 minutes played in 7 games
▪️ Two starts were both losses
Not the start to the season Cristiano Ronaldo was expecting 🤦♂️ pic.twitter.com/ErG0Advi3D
— B/R Football (@brfootball) September 8, 2022
Fantastic header from Ronaldo for the disallowed goal. Frustrating though because there was no reason for him to be offside. Strolling back on side when it shouldn’t have been a bother.
— Scott Patterson (@R_o_M) September 8, 2022
United will still win this group, no doubt.
Biggest takeaway from tonight is that Maguire, Lindelof, Fred and Ronaldo have just justified why Erik ten Hag doesn’t trust them.
Not near good enough.
— Alex Turk (@AlexCTurk) September 8, 2022
I’m sorry, but Ronaldo completely kills our attack.
No fluidity, no press, no speed, terrible first touch, gets tired after 20 minutes.
I love the bloke but this isn’t a team that will constantly whip balls in and even when we can he’s dropped deep anyway.
Hurts to say it.
— Ryan (@Itshaber) September 8, 2022
However, there’s one positive Ten Hag could take home from that Ronaldo performance. He won’t be questioned for putting the superstar back on the bench for a league game anytime soon.
And if Sociedad’s performance is anything to go by, Ronaldo isn’t ready to start in the Europa League either. Pretty ironic situation for the player who pushed to depart Old Trafford in order to play in the Champions League.