Man United FC

Two players have given Erik ten Hag a new problem in Manchester United midfield after Real Sociedad game

Manchester United started their Europa League campaign poorly, losing 1-0 to Real Sociedad.

Fred’s Experiment

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Fred has been reinvented at Manchester United since the change of manager in December, and his rise up the ranks appears to be continuing under Erik ten Hag.



The Brazilian’s talent as a counter-presser was always going to appeal to Ralf Rangnick, and under the German, he went from playing alongside Scott McTominay to more of a No. 8 role, attempting to influence games higher up the pitch.


When he was chosen to a three-man midfield alongside Christian Eriksen against Real Sociedad, it was assumed he would play deeper. Instead, Fred was as advanced as Bruno Fernandes, playing as a No. 10, right over Ronaldo’s shoulder.


This put Eriksen in a deeper role, frequently to the left of Casemiro and frequently attempting to link play between defense and attack. It’s a role he’s excelled in thus far, and having his name on the squad sheet for the seventh time in a row demonstrated how important he is to Ten Hag, particularly in that position.


Eriksen was superb once more in his 45-minute cameo, but Fred’s first half in his advanced post was terrible. His inability to play one-touch passes delayed United, and his accuracy was poor when he did get the ball away.


Fred’s main flaw is his lack of consistency with the ball at his feet, and after doing well to rescue his United career last season, he could find himself on the fringe again with performances like this.


Attacking power


On Sunday, United had their finest attacking effort of the season against Arsenal, but it was a much more labored performance and additional evidence that they are failing to break down defensive-minded clubs.


Real Sociedad arrived with the purpose of shutting down United, and they did it far too easily. Cristiano Ronaldo provided absolutely little at center-forward aside from being consistently offside, while Antony appeared only briefly.


Anthony Elanga twice darted into dangerous situations, but after putting in the effort, his last pass failed him down, a reoccurring issue in his game.


Eriksen was the most creative presence in the first half, but after he was gone, United’s threat vanished. Fernandes, who came on at halftime, had no impact on the game, and United never looked like getting back into it. Their aggressive play is still evolving.




Ten Hag shifted his group to some extent against Sociedad, but seeing both of his first-choice full-backs start just reinforced the notion that Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia are vital to United at the moment.


Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw were the first-choice full-backs a year ago, but they were seated next to each other in the directors’ box on Thursday night.


Injuries may have limited Ten Hag’s options in those choices – Wan-Bissaka was named on the bench but did not play – but it’s apparent Dalot and Malacia have had the jump on their opponents.


They both appear to be significantly more fit with Ten Hag’s goals for this post. Aggression in defensive situations, the capacity to attack when necessary, but also the skillset and game reading to slip into midfield and help construct play while preventing counter-attacks.




The main difficulty with VAR in European games can be the differing interpretations of domestic league officials translating to these games, and United were on the receiving end of that last night.


Lisandro Martinez used his body to parry David Silva’s shot, but the ball deflected onto his arm. It’s no longer a penalty under Premier League rules, but Serie A has more penalties for handball than any other league, therefore these officials adopted a different stance.


To the surprise of United’s players, VAR Massimiliano Irrati affirmed the decision after Marco Di Bello pointed to the spot. It was a bad decision.



a lack of danger


Even though United struggled for much of the game, it never felt like the game was in risk, and it shouldn’t hurt their chances in this competition.


United’s draw has been extremely generous, and while they should have beaten Real Sociedad as well, failing to take 12 points from their four games against Sheriff Tiraspol and Omonia Nicosia will be considered a failure.


Thursday night football is tough enough for a club of United’s stature, but the group stages are a chore that will be relieved to be through with this season. The month of February should see a surge in interest.

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