On one of those nights when football felt rather insignificant, Manchester United’s mini-revival under Erik ten Hag was brought to a halt by the Spaniards of Real Sociedad.
It took a controversial penalty to end United’s four-match winning run under the new manager and get their Europa League Group E campaign off to a losing start at Old Trafford.
The decision to penalize substitute Lisandro Martinez for handball, when David Silva’s shot early in the second half came off the Argentine’s thigh first, seemed harsh.
Cristiano Ronaldo cuts a frustrated figure during Manchester United’s surprise 1-0 defeat by Real Sociedad on Thursday
Brais Mendez scored the only goal of the Europa League tie at Old Trafford for the Spanish side with a controversial spot-kick
But United had enough talent on the pitch at any stage of this tie to get the job done and it should concern Ten Hag that the moment he changed a winning line-up, his team lost.
The game went ahead after United sought direction from both the FA and UEFA following the announcement of The Queen’s death less than two hours before kick-off.
The start was preceded by an impeccably observed minute’s silence – during which the Sociedad fans held up their blue and white scarves as a mark of respect – with both teams wearing black armbands and the flags around Old Trafford at half mast.
‘Manchester United shares the sorrow of the entire nation following the announcement from Buckingham Palace on the passing of Her Majesty, The Queen,’ read a club statement.
A shot from David Silva appeared to catch Lisandro Martinez on the leg before the ball bounced up and hit his arm
But despite a VAR check, the penalty was awarded as Mendez races off to the Sociedad fans to celebrate his goal
United boss Erik ten Hag was left furious with officials on the touchline for allowing the controversial penalty to be awarded
‘The club recognizes its immense contribution to public life, including sport, both here in the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth, and around the world.’
As expected, Ten Hag used the Europa League to rotate his squad with £70million new signing Casemiro making his full debut and Cristiano Ronaldo getting his second start of the season – and first appearance in this competition for 20 years.
Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Fred were also recalled, but the decision to leave Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the bench alongside teenagers Alejandro Garnacho, Zidane Iqbal, Charlie McNeill and Tyler Fredricson was a clear indication of how Ten Hag views a right-back who once cost United £50m.
Considering the six changes, United could be forgiven for a rather disjoined performance in the first half after four Premier League wins in a row.
Everyone inside Old Trafford observed a moment of silence before the game following the passing of Queen Elizabeth II
United supporters observe the silence having only found out about the news traveling to the game on Thursday
Sociedad fans who had traveled from Spain paid their respects by raising their scarves and also observing the silence
They relied largely on the trickery of new £85m signing ingenuity Antony, making his second appearance, the ingenuity of Christian Eriksen and pace of Anthony Elanga to worry Sociedad.
Ronaldo’s space may be on the wane, which was clear enough when he was swiftly overtaken by centre-backs Aritz Elustondo and Jon Pacheco when through on goal – and offside – in the 14th minute.
But the 37-year-old looked willing enough to press for Ten Hag and also offered an aerial threat which led to a disallowed 10 minutes before half-time.
Diogo Dalot clipped a cross to the edge of the six-yard box and Ronaldo hung in the air before meeting it with a firm header. Goalkeeper Alex Remiro did well to turn the ball onto the underside of the bar but it bounced over the line and Ronaldo was celebrating before realizing he was offside again.
Real Sociedad battled well at Old Trafford with their win putting them in control of the Europa League group – via SofaScore
Cristiano Ronaldo had a goal ruled out in the first half following a superb header that was correctly ruled out for offside
The veteran looked lively in the first period but was heavily marked out of the game as he questions his goal being ruled out
Club captain Harry Maguire gestures towards Ronaldo as United struggled to make a breakthrough during the game
He almost struck again moments after the interval which saw Bruno Fernandes and Martinez replacing Eriksen and Dalot. Fernandes floated over a cross from the right and Ronaldo appeared to be put off by Elustondo as he glanced a header wide from close range.
It felt like United’s No.7 was sensing a goal and another effort followed in the 48th minute, this time a rising shot from 25 yards that flew inches over the bar.
Sociedad had made a half-time change of their own, sending on 6ft 5in Norwegian striker Alexander Sorloth, and the substitute went close to scoring when he knocked Martinez out of the way to meet Takefusa Kubo’s cross and head off target.
Sociedad had their tails up and it needed a last-ditch intervention from Martinez to flick another Kubo cross off Sorloth’s head shortly afterwards.
Former Manchester City star and veteran David Silva enjoyed a productive night on his return to the city with Sociedad
Ronaldo also went close at the start of the second half with a header that went just wide of the target in the Europa League tie
United though lacked the creativity of the first half, and they rarely looked like scoring even after falling behind
United were in trouble seconds later, though, and it was perhaps no surprise that Silva was involved as Martinez threw his body in the way to block the former Manchester City favourite’s shot inside the box.
The ball clearly hit Martinez’s right thigh before deflecting against his outstretched left arm. Italian referee Marco Di Bello pointed straight to the spot and VAR official Massimiliano Irrati didn’t dispute the decision. Up stepped Brais Mendez to beat David de Gea.
United pressed for an equalizer but the nearest they came was Casemiro’s shot from the edge of the box which was turned away at his left-hand post by Remiro.
Assuming UEFA fixtures will go ahead as planned next week, Ten Hag’s side must now travel to Moldova for a difficult tie against FC Sheriff to get their European campaign back on track.
Follow Sportsmail’s live blog for the Europa League group stage clash between Manchester United and Real Sociedad.