Manchester United lose at home to Real Sociedad to halt Ten Hag’s progress | Europa League

Football was clearly irrelevant after the afternoon news but, after UEFA decided the game should go ahead, Manchester United duly fulfilled their Europa League game against Real Sociedad.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II cast a pall of grief over Old Trafford and a heartfelt pre-kick-off tribute brought fans together for a minute’s silence in honor of the monarch with players and referees wearing black armbands, flags above Old Trafford flies at half mast, the stadium’s advertising hoardings are closed and United issued a statement offering condolences and gratitude for the monarch’s “enormous contribution to public life”.

Erik ten Hag’s side ended up with a first defeat in five games due to a controversial second-half penalty at Sociedad that leaves them playing catch-up in the group stage.

A full charge from Antony that ranged from the Sociedad area to the right-hand corner flag and teed up Takefusa Kubo was United’s highlight in a worrying half defensively. Sociedad were no stronger in the section as Alejandro Remiro’s drop of a high Casemiro ball – it fell on Aritz Elustondo – signaled a similar flurry from the Spaniards.

Against an opponent eliminated in the round of 32 two years ago, Ten Haag had recalled Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo with Casemiro starting in United colors and Viktor Lindelof of the season. Sociedad had David Silva, arguably the best player for Sheikh Mansour’s Manchester City side during a decade there, operating as a floating No 10, but it was United mastermind Christian Eriksen who dominated before the break.

A pass from the classy Dane had Anthony Elanga slotting in on the left. Another fell to a Ronaldo who narrowly failed to connect. When Eriksen fed Elanga again, a blast went past Antoni Gorosabel for a corner. When they did take part, Diogo Dalot and Maguire somehow missed out on testing Remiro up close. Eriksen’s private film of the contest then saw him draw a mesmerizing effigy of Ronaldo, who was cursed after failing to finish.

Cristiano Ronaldo down in Manchester United's home defeat
Cristiano Ronaldo was down in Manchester United’s home defeat. Photo: Socrates Images/Getty Images

However, Imanol Alguacil’s side had their own questions about United’s depleted backline. Clearances from Lindelöf and Maguire were unconvincing and Aihen Muñoz’s dunk on Casemiro from the visiting left-back in an advanced position was not part of the defensive shield’s job description.

In the second half Lisandro Martínez replaced Dalot and Bruno Fernandes came on for Eriksen. The Portuguese immediately hung a ball for Ronaldo, who, usually lethal with his header, spurned a golden chance to put United ahead. Moments later, the 37-year-old, who is yet to score this season, fired home from 20 yards.

United were not as fragmented from their first two defeats, showing a team that had not yet been forged in the Ten Hag way, not one that had won their last four outings.

Alexander Sørloth, on as a substitute, should have punished United’s last-minute slippage, but a wild header was no surprise given the quality so far. But now came the powerless penalty decision from Marco Di Bello: Silva pulled the trigger and into the hands of Martinez, who was looking away, left the ball through a leg. VAR did not rule against the referee and Bryce Mendes beat David de Gea to the latter’s left. Casemiro responded with a header but missed from Fernandes’ cross as United continued to disappoint.

In the closing stages, Ten Hag brought on Alejandro Garnacho and Jadon Sancho, but United lacked fluidity and could not track Sociedad’s runners. Sancho’s lack of composure from close range when he should have equalized summed up United.

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