Cristiano Ronaldo's Europa League debut was frustrating in Manchester United loss to Real Sociedad

MANCHESTER, England -- Manchester United opened their Europa League campaign in inauspicious fashion, falling to Real Sociedad at Old Trafford, 1-0. A spot kick goal from Brais Méndez was the difference as Erik ten Hag's side couldn't muster a response.

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For Sociedad, the win was their first against an English team in a competitive match. Here is ESPN's Rob Dawson with reaction and analysis.

JUMP TO: Player ratings | Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Post-match quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures

Rapid Reaction

1. Manchester United's Europa League campaign starts with a defeat

Erik ten Hag insisted at his news conference on Wednesday that he would take the Europa League seriously, but despite the Dutchman picking a strong team including Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Maguire, David De Gea, Christian Eriksen and Antony, Real Socieded still left Old Trafford with three points. Man United ended the night with more shots and more possession than the Spanish side, but goalkeeper Alejandro Remiro was never forced into anything more than a routine save.

It's not the end of the world for Ten Hag and he will still expect to do enough over the next five group games to progress to the next round, but the result will stall the momentum built up after four Premier League wins in a row.

As well as being a disappointing night for Ten Hag, the defeat won't do his squad players any favours, either. Ronaldo, Maguire, Fred, Casemiro, Victor Lindelof and Anthony Elanga were all brought into the team after watching the winning run from the bench, but no one did enough to suggest they will keep their place for the next game in the league.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo frustrated in his return

Ten Hag picked a strong team to kick off the Europa League group stage but still made a number of changes, including handing a recall to Ronaldo. The 37-year-old was hoping a summer move would mean playing Champions League football somewhere else this season, but instead he made his first career appearance in the Europa League, and it didn't look like he enjoyed the experience.

(Ronaldo two decades ago did play in the UEFA Cup, the predecessor to the Europa Cup, which had a slightly different format under a different name. Ronaldo's Sporting CP side lost to Partizan on a 6-4 aggregate in the first round.)

Yet to score this season, he had a first-half goal ruled out for offside and saw another couple of half-chances snuffed out by some dogged Real Sociedad defending. He also took a couple of heavy challenges in the second half and looked to be in some discomfort toward the end.

The benefit for Ronaldo is that, after missing almost all of preseason, he got 90 minutes in his legs -- but it wasn't a performance that suggested he will be back in the team for a Premier League game anytime soon.

For now, he might have to wait for his chance in the Europa League and hope he can regain his scoring touch soon and force Ten Hag into bringing him back for games in the league. In the meantime, he is likely to have to settle for his role as an impact substitute.

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3. Real Sociedad brave on the big stage

Real Sociedad have had a mixed start to their season in LaLiga with two wins from their first four games, but on the eve of their visit to Old Trafford, coach Imanol Alguacil promised that his team wouldn't be shy about trying to attack Man United.

"We're going to go for the opponents," Alguacil said in a news conference. "We're going to show personality and take the initiative."

He will be delighted at the way his players carried out his instructions. Despite coming up against a strong United team -- perhaps stronger than they expected -- Real Sociedad had plenty of the ball, particularly in the first half, and even though they didn't fashion many clear-cut chances, they did enough to win the game.

Led by former Manchester City midfielder David Silva, they were brave on the ball and kept trying to pass out from the back when they got the chance, even under pressure from United's press. There is still a long way to go, but after winning at Old Trafford, they will be eyeing top spot in the group to earn a better draw in the knockout rounds.

Player ratings

Manchester United: De Gea 6, Dalot 7, Malacia 7, Lindelof 6, Maguire 6, Casemiro 7, Fred 5, Eriksen 7, Elanga 5, Antony 5, Ronaldo 5.

Subs: Fernandes 6, Martinez 6, Sancho 6, Garnacho 6, McNeill 6.

Real Sociedad: Remiro 6, Gorosabel 6, Munoz 7, Elustondo 7, Pacheco 7, Mendez 7, Zubimendi 7, Merino 7, Kubo 7, Silva 7, Umar 7.

Subs: Sorloth 6, Cho 6, Barrenetxea 6, Turrientes 6, Sola 6.

Best and worst performers

BEST: Christian Eriksen

It was a surprise that Eriken started and it seemed preplanned that he came off at half-time, but United looked like they needed him in the second half.


The Brazilian started in an unfamiliar position as the No. 10 in Ten Hag's system, and in the first half Fred could barely find another red shirt with a pass.

Highlights and notable moments

Queen Elizabeth II, Britain's longest-reigning monarch, died Thursday at the age of 96 after reigning for 70 years.

Players wore black armbands, and a moment of silence was held at Old Trafford before kickoff.

"A minute's silence will be held before kickoff which will allow the teams, match officials and everyone in attendance to pay their respects to Her Majesty, The Queen," said a statement from Manchester United.

What would a match be these days be without a little VAR drama?

In the second half, a David Silva shot hit the leg and then arm of Lisandro Martínez. The referee on the field, Marco Di Bello, called it as a handling violation and a penalty, and a VAR check agreed with the decision, resulting in Brais Méndez's scored penalty to put Sociedad ahead.

After the match: What the managers, players said

Manchester United canceled their postgame news conference in light of the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)

  • This was Cristiano Ronaldo's first appearance in the Europa League. He did compete in the competition's predecessor, the UEFA Cup, in 2002. His Sporting CP side lost to Partizan on a 6-4 aggregate in the first round.

  • Ronaldo has scored in every competition he has played in more than once, except for Europa League/UEFA Cup. This is the third time he has been held scoreless in a Europa League/UEFA Cup match, and his team has never won a match in the competition (0-2-1 W-L-D).

Up next

Manchester United: The Red Devils return to Premier League action when they head to Crystal Palace on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Real Sociedad: Los Txuri-Urdin return to LaLiga action when they visit Getafe on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET.