Lessons learned from a disappointing night vs. Real Sociedad

Manchester United slumped to an underwhelming, if slightly understandable defeat on Thursday night. The game’s significance dwindled in comparison to the news of Queen Elizabeth II’s death at the age of 96, with news reaching a worldwide audience less than two hours before kick off. The game went ahead at UEFA’s behest, and a moderately muted Old Trafford crowd watched on as United stuttered to a first defeat in five games.

Martinez is carded for a handball incident which gifted La Real a penalty (Photo by The Telegraph)

The game saw wholesale changes in all departments for United. Having gone unchanged for all four of the consecutive wins in the league, Ten Hag brought in Maguire, Ronaldo, Fred and Casemiro among others and rested several key players. These changes led to a very disjointed display; one that Ten Hag must learn from if his team is to progress to a greater level of consistency.

Here are some points that Ten Hag should muse over in the fallout of a disappointing defeat to La Real.

Fred’s lack of creativity hinders United

As Fred enters his fifth season at United, there is still a question over his contribution. Thursday’s disappointing defeat will have done nothing to assuage those who say he has no future at Old Trafford.

Fred picks up the loose ball after some good positional play from Casemiro. (Images courtesy of BT Sport)

An stark example of Fred’s ineptitude came in the 21st minute. United were out of possession for a spell. Winning the ball back, Fred immediately squares the ball to an in-flight Ronaldo, who would’ve appreciated time to get further up the pitch. Had Fred possessed the foresight to hold onto the ball, there was a chance for a 4 vs. 3. Instead, his slow square ball forced Ronaldo to back-peddle and all momentum left the potential attack.

Fred’s evening didn’t improve. Arriving late in the box occasionally, Fred was regularly unable to test the goalkeeper and lacked the cutting edge required in Erik Ten Hag’s forward-thinking side. Having started none of the last four league wins, Fred did little to persuade his manager to play him.

Elanga’s cut-back to Fred resulted in a tame, blocked shot. (Images courtesy of BT Sport)

Elanga deserves his first-team status

No these two images are not from the same passage, though you’d be forgiven for thinking it. Elanga provided a constant threat from his wide left position. Throughout the match, he found himself in lots of exploitable space, owing to Tyrell Malacia’s excellent positional sense dragging La Real’s markers out of position.

Elanga proved an impossible man to mark throughout the game. (Images courtesy of BT Sport)

The 20 year-old Swede has played 35 times for United already. Having proven a handy squad-player under Ten Hag, Elanga showed why his gametime must be managed. That said, Antony’s arrival and Jadon Sancho’s return to form will surely mean Elanga’s impact will be limited to European and domestic cup starts as well as impressing off the bench, something which he is extremely capable of doing.

Dalot was worth the patience

Diogo Dalot was a lost man at United. During his first three seasons, he played only 20 league games and was shipped out on loan to AC Milan. Fast-forward to Ten Hag’s first winning run and Dalot has not only started every game, but has impressed in many areas.

Dalot (middle-right) sprints back into position after a United corner. (Images courtesy of BT Sport)

Here, Dalot shows his tenacity. A fairly innocuous situation where a loose ball is set to be picked up by a United teammate, but Dalot instead sprints back into right-back. Without making mountains of molehills, it shows the Portugal international is as determined as ever to prove his worth in the team, making sure he displays the hard-work required of him at all times. He wants to revive his United career, and recent performances indicate he is definitely on his way to doing that.

Replacing Maguire was necessary

Herein lies Maguire’s issue. After his tumultuously poor recent form, he appears now bereft of any confidence. United signed Maguire as a ball-playing centre-back, a role typified by recent arrival, Lisandro Martinez.

Maguire’s incompatibility with Ten Hag’s style of football is summed up here. (Images courtesy of BT Sport)

Maguire, through decent work, has the ball at feet here in the centre circle. Lindelof, occupying the half-spaces (a sentence I never thoguht I’d be writing) is screaming for the ball. Should Maguire spot that ball, there is a potential overload on the right-flank. It’s a fairly simple forward ball, one that Martinez makes several times a game, that would ask questions of the opposition’s defence. Maguire dwells on the ball and a potential attack dwindles.

In truth, United seemed far too disjointed to gain anything from this game, especially since La Real were in the mood defensively. There were some odd choices made by the manager, namely deploying Fred in a number-10 role which he has never suited. Substituting Dalot and Eriksen at half-time also raised eyebrows. Using this game as a cautionary tale will be crucial in Ten Hag’s fleeting tenure at United.

United’s next game, following the postponed weekend of fixtures, will be away at Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol. Nothing but a win will do to kickstart the campaign in a winnable Europa League.

Author: Sam Talbot

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.