The Daily Telegraph

United’s resurgence stalled by disputed penalty for Sociedad

- Europa League By James Ducker at Old Trafford

The momentum Manchester United had built on the back of four successive wins came to a juddering halt at Old Trafford as Erik ten Hag’s first European game with the club ended in defeat by Real Sociedad.

Cristiano Ronaldo was back in the United starting line-up but the Portugal forward was forced to defer to another famous and familiar veteran on the night. David Silva won here five times as a Manchester City player and now has another Old Trafford victory to his name, the 36-year-old winning the contentiou­s penalty from which Brais Mendez settled this game from the spot.

It was a frustratin­g night for Ronaldo and United, who huffed and puffed but fluffed the few chances they did create as Sociedad claimed a famous win.

There was some doubt initially if the game would go ahead after it was announced that the Queen had died. A minute’s silence, impeccably observed, was held before kick-off with the words “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – 19262022 – In Memoriam” appearing on the perimeter boards, which were then blacked out as a mark of respect. Flags were lowered and players from both teams wore black armbands.

Ten Hag made six changes to the team that beat Arsenal on Sunday. Ronaldo, Harry Maguire and Fred were given their first starts since the debacle at Brentford, Casemiro his first for the club after three substitute outings and Victor Lindelof his first appearance of the campaign following injury.

For all their intent and possession, United had struggled to fashion much in the way of clear cut chances, at least until Ronaldo miscued a close-range header 35 seconds after the restart having scored with a much harder one in the first half, albeit ruled out for offside. When Real Sociedad benefited from a very generous penalty decision shortly before the hour mark, United suddenly found themselves chasing the game.

It was harsh on United and Lisandro Martinez, who was only a few yards from Silva when the midfielder’s shot bounced up off his leg and hit his arm. The Var upheld referee Marco Di Bello’s decision and Mendez made no mistake from the penalty spot.

Ten Hag had begun the game with Fred pushed high upfield behind Ronaldo. It was an uncharacte­ristically advanced midfield role and it showed. Ten Hag abandoned the experiment at half-time, dropped Fred deeper and brought on Bruno Fernandes for Christian Eriksen, who had been United’s best player but needs managing after so much football.

If Ronaldo had got his way this summer, he would have been playing Champions League, not Europa League football, this week. The 37-year-old pressed when he could but the signs of age were evident when, released in an offside position, he still had to check his run after being easily caught by Artiz Elustondo. Few players on the planet could have generated the power from a standing start to score from Diogo Dalot’s floated cross, the shame being he was offside.

But he really should have scored with United’s first attack after the break. Fernandes’s cross was a beauty but, whether distracted by Elustondo’s jump, Ronaldo brushed his header wide, the sort of chance you seldom see him miss. It would prove costly.

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 ?? ?? Clash of heads: Cristiano Ronaldo, of Manchester United, and Real Sociedad’s Aritz Elustondo challenge for the ball last night
Clash of heads: Cristiano Ronaldo, of Manchester United, and Real Sociedad’s Aritz Elustondo challenge for the ball last night

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