Manchester United lost 1-0 to Real Sociedad in their first Europa League game of the season.
The Reds were relatively calm in the first half, failing to create the chances they have created in recent weeks. The second half was much better, but the Real Sociedad defense proved too stubborn to break.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Europa League debut tonight was the closest he came to achieving, with a header from Diogo Dalot’s superb cross that was beyond the reach of the Real Sociedad keeper. It was ruled offside and the goal was disallowed.
The Spanish club opened the scoring in the second half, Brais Mendez’s penalty making it a difficult decision for players and fans alike.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s first Europa League game of the season.
Christian Eriksen is Manchester United’s most important player
Christian Eriksen came on against Arsenal, delivering another masterclass against Sociedad in 45 minutes on the pitch.
The Dane was one of the few players in Arsenal’s victory to retain his place in tonight’s starting XI and it quickly became clear why.
Eriksen was United manager in the first half and looked like the most dangerous player around. On more than one occasion, the 30-year-old let Ronaldo slip away and he didn’t take advantage of the opportunities presented to him.
On top of that, Eriksen is the Red Devils’ main ball handler, linking defense and attack brilliantly. He seemed very comfortable in tight spaces and avoided social pressure on many occasions.
He missed his expertise in the second half as the 20-time English champion lost his lead and sent a penetrating pass into the attacking third. He is easily United’s most important player.
Ten witches are right about Ronaldo
Judging by his performance today, it is now clearer why Ten Haag was reluctant to start Ronaldo, who sometimes preferred Marcus Rashford as a striker to the 37-year-old.
Ronaldo, although his imagination isn’t bad at all, fails to show why he has to start every game forward.
Several attempts by the Portuguese captain failed as he lost a yard of pace and seemed unable to hold the ball and get his teammates into the game.
He had chances, but most of them were either long shots or headed attempts from crosses. He himself seemed outraged by the nature of his follies on the pitch tonight.
The highlight of the match came in the 85th minute when he received a spectacular ball into the box in time and space but was tied down in an instant by the company’s defenders.
Evidence tonight suggests the current five-time Ballon d’Or winner may face a small role or play a minor role as Rashford and Anthony Martial when he returns.
The youngsters will have the chance to be under Ten Haag
In addition to tonight’s starter, Anthony Elanga, Alejandro Ganaccio and Charlie McNeil also made appearances.
Especially when Ganacho arrived he looked sharp and had Old Trafford loyalists on the edge of their seats more than once.
Zidane Iqbal and Tyler Frederiksen have been named as replacements by the Dutch boss, who trusted Manchester United’s young stars.
Through tonight, many will see a viable path into the first team.