Manchester United have discovered the player Erik ten Hag’s system revolves around after Real Sociedad defeat
Man United began their Europa League campaign with a 1-0 loss to Real Sociedad on Thursday evening.
On a night packed with emotion and grief, Manchester United delivered a dull and fragmented performance that is unlikely to stick with anyone who witnessed it.
United arrived at Old Trafford with a bounce in their step for their Europa League group stage opener against Real Sociedad. The win over Arsenal on Sunday was their fourth in a row, and Sociedad was the next target.
However, perhaps impacted by the revelation of the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II just 90 minutes before kick-off, United froze when they had the potential to capitalize on their momentum. Brais Mendez’s dubious penalty, awarded just before the hour mark, was enough to send United to their first defeat in five games and inflict a rare Europa League home setback.
Although United had every right to protest about the penalty’s awarding, the performance was flat since the officials chose to ignore the evidence that the ball had touched substitute Lisandro Martinez’s body before bouncing up into his harm despite the use of VAR. United was a long cry from the club that had ended Arsenal’s unbeaten start to the season just four days before.
But, given that Erik ten Hag made six substitutions in an attempt to shake things up and award minutes to individuals who had not been so fortunate recently, it was always a risky option. It disrupted United’s recent rhythm, with none of the sextet who came in doing enough to leave their mark.
Casemiro, making his first start since joining from Real Madrid last month, demonstrated why Scott McTominay has started the last three league games, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s most noticeable contribution was heading in Diogo Dalot’s cross, which was promptly met by the linesman’s flag. But, while those who did have a chance to shine stumbled, the man who most people expected to be given a break continued to dazzle.
Christian Eriksen shone brightly in midfield, exactly like he did against Arsenal. Ten Hag stunned everyone by starting Fred in the more advanced role, allowing Eriksen to continue to prosper in his free-roaming No.8 seat.
While Fred struggled to adjust to life in a new position, Eriksen demonstrated why Ten Hag was so keen on bringing him to his squad. United’s hopes vanished once he was substituted at halftime. He designed the majority of what they built in the first 45 minutes, and they missed him terribly when he was subbed off, apparently on purpose.
Given that he was hired by United to compete with Fernandes for the attacking-midfield slot, Ten Hag’s decision to keep him in a more reserved role speaks loudly about how he wants him to make the No.8 berth his own. The idea to play Fred in the advanced midfield role backfired somewhat, but Eriksen’s resistance to changing roles was telling.
Ten Hag sees the Danish international as the ball-playing midfielder that Frenkie de Jong lacked. Everything United have achieved in their previous two games has been down to the former Brentford man’s ability to get on the ball and direct play.
He was head and shoulders above his midfield peers against Sociedad, and it is evident that he is now one of Ten Hag’s first names on the team sheet. United seemed a touch confused in the second half without Eriksen as their director.
Their chances dried up, and they lacked the control they had shown in the first half. As a result, it is evident that United has the opportunity to shape Ten Hag’s vision and philosophy around Eriksen and his talent.
United may have spent millions on the likes of Martinez, Casemiro, and Antony throughout the summer, but it is Eriksen, who was signed on a free transfer, who has proven to be their best piece of business thus far.