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Inconsistency Creeps Back Into the Red Devils | Three Things we Learnt in the Europa League Opener Against Sociedad

Man United vs Real Sociedad

We learnt three things as Man United began their 2022/23 Europa League campaign with a controversial 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad. Erik ten Hag’s side headed into the game with a winning streak of four games which included wins against Liverpool and Arsenal. But Brais Mendez scored the only goal of the game via penalty after Lisandro Martinez was harshly adjudged to have handled the ball in the penalty area.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Casemiro both started for the Red Devils but were unable to influence the game. The game was played against the backdrop of the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the players paid tribute with black armbands and a minute’s silence before kick-off.

Lisandro Martinez, Real Sociedad, Man United
Image Obtained Via Telegraph

In the 2020-21 season’s Europa League R16 stage, we saw two meetings between United and Real Sociedad. The first was in Spain where the Red Devils rolled over their opponents, thrashing them 0-4. The following event, which was at Old Trafford, saw no goals.

Man United were on cloud nine after their recent league results while Real Sociedad were lacking consistency and had to encounter a tough fixture list at the start of the season. With United in excellent shape, pundits were certain Sociedad couldn’t escape a defeat despite the Spanish side’s experience and decent quality. The atmosphere in United’s locker room was superb, and the momentum was simply too big to be stopped.

Man United made a confident start to the game but Real Sociedad did not back down from the challenge that Old Trafford brings. It was an evenly-matched first period as the hosts kept 54% possession. Ronaldo appeared to have put the hosts ahead late in the half, but his goal was rightly ruled out for offside.

Brais Mendez stepped up to take the penalty and scored to put Real Sociedad ahead in the fifty-ninth minute. Ten Hag made a few substitutions in form of Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Alejandro Garnacho to try and alter the course of the game but most of United’s attackers had a weak performance in front of the goal.

1. United Have An Adaptable Midfield This Season

When Ten Hag named the midfield trio of Fred, Casemiro and Christian Eriksen in his starting eleven, many believed that the Brazilians would anchor the midfield with the Dane in the Bruno role. But once the game began, it was noticed that Fred was operating in the more advanced position while Eriksen retained the deeper role he had mastered in recent weeks.

Christian Eriksen
Image Obtained via Caught Offside

Eriksen looked as comfortable as ever in the first half against the Spanish side, spreading passes with ease and embarking on a handful of powerful runs to turn defence into attack.

In addition, Fred’s more advanced position allowed the Brazilian to press from the front, while his compatriot Casemiro provided the bite in front of the defence with some strong challenges and well-timed interceptions. After the break, Eriksen was replaced by Bruno Fernandes, with Fred dropping into a deeper role with Casemiro.

2. Manchester United Were Unlucky For The Penalty Decision

Lisandro Martinez was brought on at half-time as he joined Harry Maguire at centre-back. He came on to help his side stay compact at the back and play long balls in behind Real Sociedad’s defence.

The defender put in another commanding performance, this time against Sociedad forward Alexander Sorloth and was unlucky to have given away a penalty, with the referee pointing to the spot for handball. It did appear to have hit Martinez’s thigh before coming onto his arm, but following a VAR review, the decision stood.

3. Ronaldo’s Return Didn’t Have The Required Impact

The Portuguese started at Old Trafford for the first time this season and on countless occasions was in the right spot to score the goal. Ronaldo had a couple of chances in the first half and he even found the net, only to see the goal get ruled out for offside.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Sociedad, Man United
Image Obtained Via Strettynews

He seems to be demonstrating the ability to track back into midfield and put the opposition under pressure which was debated heavily during the summer.

The Portuguese had a challenging night in front of goal as he failed to get on the scoresheet despite several attempts. Ronaldo attempted four shots, with none on target. Two of his attempts just went astray while the other two were blocked. He also missed one big chance to score.

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Against Arsenal on Sunday, the Red Devils had less of the ball but still took all the chances that came their way. But against low-block teams like Real Sociedad who wait for their moments, Man United looked short of ideas.

Erik ten Hag will need to focus on preparing his players to control and win games where they have more of the ball. If not, they could suffer more such defeats.

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