Manchester United‘s recent winning run came to an end on Thursday as Erik ten Hag’s side succumbed to a 1-0 defeat to La Liga outfit Real Sociedad in their first Europa League encounter of the season.
The Red Devils have enjoyed something of a revival in recent weeks after recording four straight Premier League victories after the debacle at Brentford, although they came up short in what was a rather drab encounter at Old Trafford.
Amid the backdrop of the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II prior to kick-off, it was an unsurprisingly muted atmosphere inside the Theatre of Dreams on the night, with players and supporters having observed an impeccable minute’s silence in her memory.
As the action eventually did get underway, it was also a somewhat muted performance from Ten Hag’s men, with the Dutchman’s raft of changes seemingly backfiring as the home side offered little attacking thrust.
Summer signing Casemiro appeared understandably off the pace on his first start for the club, while last season’s talisman Cristiano Ronaldo continued his goalless start to the new campaign, with the Portuguese icon seemingly beginning to show his age as he recorded the lowest Sofascore rating of any United player on Thursday.
Although the 37-year-old may typically dominate the headlines following that surprise defeat – which saw the visitors benefit from a hugely controversial penalty decision – there was arguably another greater villain on the night in the form of team-mate Fred.
One of many squad members thrust back into the starting line-up after largely featuring off the bench in the early weeks of the season, the Brazilian produced an erratic display in United’s midfield, having been deployed in something of a playmaking role by his manager.
While potentially ill-suited to that number ten berth, the 29-year-old cannot blame his new boss for his multitude of errant passes nor his lack of composure on the ball, as he notably lost possession 15 times in his 90-minute outing.
Quite why the former Shakhtar Donetsk man was not withdrawn is something of a headscratcher, with the 27-cap midfielder at one stage almost sparking an attack for the away side after producing a blind backward pass from the centre of the pitch.
As Manchester Evening News reporter Samuel Luckhurst wrote after the match, the £18m-rated Brazilian looked like a ‘fish out of water’ in a more creative role, with the hope being that Ten Hag will have learnt from that failed experiment.
Having endured a “shocker” against the Basque outfit – in the words of ESPN journalist Rob Dawson – Fred can seemingly have few complaints if he finds himself back on the substitutes’ bench when United are next in action.