Atletico Madrid 1 Manchester United 0
Cristiano Ronaldo returns to the Manchester United first team on Sunday after a defeat that raised a number of critical questions for new manager Erik ten Haag just a week before the start of the Premier League season.
A late winner from Joao Felix, followed by Fred’s 88th-minute dismissal, capped a disappointing afternoon for United at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo. one that left their manager describing their termination as “unacceptable”.
The Dutch manager now turns his attention to the second leg of his weekend double-header and his first game at Old Trafford when United complete their warm-up against Rayo Vallecano on Sunday afternoon, with Ten Haag promising a completely new. starting XI.
Ronaldo, who still insists he wants to leave Old Trafford this summer, took to social media on Friday to reveal he will play against the Madrid club in his first pre-season action.
And the manner of United’s first defeat under Ten Hag underlined that, regardless of the other issues surrounding Ronaldo, his lack of goals in the new season will be a difficult hurdle for Ten Hag to overcome without a major signing.
After United had scored 13 times in their previous four friendlies, the potential loss of Ronaldo may not have seemed as pressing for Ten Haag, despite the fact that no other United player has reached 14 of the 24 goals claimed by veteran last season.
Ten Haag confirmed that Ronaldo will be involved against Vallecano, but did not indicate whether he would start, having been involved in United’s first-team training for less than a week. “He will be in the team tomorrow. We’ll see how long he can play,” said the Dutchman.
Meanwhile, Ten Haag has added former Blackburn striker Benny McCarthy to his staff as first-team coach. The South African will focus on United’s attacking play and positioning.
The 44-year-old former South Africa international played in the Premier League with Blackburn and West Ham and remains friends with Ten Haag’s assistant Mitchell van der Haag.
United also revealed that former player Darren Fletcher will remain part of Ten Hag’s first-team coaching staff, while retaining a wider remit as technical director, overseeing the pathway of academy players to the senior team and focusing on loan players.
“You have to be sharp in the box”
In Oslo, United failed to score in a dominant first-half performance and were eventually undone by an 86th-minute goal from Joao Felix, one of nine changes Diego Simeone made in the hour.
The Premier League side gave the ball away cheaply down the right, with Koke cutting in and feeding Alvaro Morata, who cleverly held onto the ball before teeing up Felix to score with a superb 18-yard finish.
“We learned a lot, but in the end, it’s a result and the score is not good,” Ten Haag said.
“You have to take advantage if you create chances and we created a lot of chances. We needed to score at least one goal and we didn’t.
“Of the few chances they created, they scored, so from that point I’m not satisfied. It is not acceptable. You have to be sharp in the box, at both ends.”
Fred’s response, one of seven bookings in a fiery game that was often unfriendly, was to foul Morata and then put a foot on him, earning a second yellow card and ensuring United completed injury time with ten men . .
The rare sight of a red card in a pre-season game reflects the legacy of the poor Champions League round of 16 clash between these clubs in March.
And the first half saw a full-on showdown between the two sets of players after Scott McTominay fouled Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak in a high ball challenge.
“I like competitive games, but always with respect and I don’t want to have injuries, so you have to keep respect for each other,” Ten Haag said.
“I’ve seen some tackles that were maybe a little over the line.”
However, the finale was a very different proposition to a first half in which Anthony Martial continued his improvements in pre-season and played in a number of shooting positions without ever really testing Oblak.
Martial’s best chance, gifted by a superb pass from Marcus Rashford, saw him calmly fire past the Atletico keeper, a finish befitting a striker who has scored five Premier League goals in 30 games in the last two seasons.
Eriksen offers reasons for optimism
In a more even second half, United created the better chances, particularly after the 68th minute introduced new signing Christian Eriksen, who almost immediately created two brilliant openings.
First, Anthony Elanga was unable to connect with the veteran Dane’s cross at the far post and then Eriksen’s corner found an unmarked Harry Maguire who could only head wide.
“We know what he can do,” said Eriksen’s Ten Haag. “With our front men, he’s able to give them the right passes at the right time. This will create opportunities. then it’s about the finish.”
Another United substitute, Facundo Pelestri, also missed a great chance, seeing his follow-up shot deflected wide after a committed run by Rashford, and the shot ended up being blocked by Axel Witsel.
With Jadon Sancho missing the game through illness, Ten Hag had manipulated his squad selection to try and give as many players 90 minutes as possible in the two friendlies ahead of the season opener at home to Brighton on Sunday.
New signing center Lisandro Martinez was an unused substitute in the 25-point heat of Oslo, likely saving him a few minutes against Vallecano, while Sancho’s fitness will be judged on match morning.
Elsewhere, there were signs of clear improvement in United’s ability to play from the back despite furious pressure from an Atletico side that is about a week behind them in terms of pre-season preparations.
Newcomer Tyrell Malacia showed he is likely to provide a serious challenge to Luke Shaw for the left-back position and regularly linked up with Rashford repeatedly in the first half.
And Maguire, booed by some sections of his own supporters during United’s previous warm-up games, not only performed well but was warmly treated by a predominantly English club crowd of 26,129.