Manchester United defeated Real Sociedad by 1-0 but the win wasn’t enough to lift them to the top spot in Group E.
As they finished second in the group, the Red Devils will be forced to play a two-legged Europa League playoff against a Champions League dropout.
Erik ten Hag made three changes to the side that won against West Ham this past weekend.
Donny van de Beek, Alejandro Garnacho and Victor Lindelof started the game in place of Anthony Elanga, Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire.
Sociedad saw more of the ball at the start but Garnacho’s magnificent finish helped United get their first goal in the 17th minute.
The Red Devils knew that they needed to win with a two-goal margin to finish at the apex of the group.
Ten Hag used some bewildering tactics in the game to gain an upper hand but the players just didn’t do enough to get the desired result.
Here are our three talking points from this clash.
Alejandro Garnacho gets his dream goal!
Garnacho started the game brightly and was rewarded with his first United goal. A David de Gea long-kick found Bruno Fernandes who headed it smartly to Ronaldo.
The veteran placed a perfectly weighted pass on Garnacho’s path, who showed exemplary composure to fire the ball into the net. The 18-year-old could have only fantasised that his first senior goal would be created by his idol Ronaldo.
The lad is a promising talent and Ten Hag needs to nurture him.
Erik ten Hag pulled too many tricks
Van de Beek has been on the injury table for the majority of the season. He was surprisingly named in the starting XI by the manager, and that too in a game where United had to be at their best in the final third. He looked like a passenger, not offering much to the team. His rusty performance showed that the manager made the wrong call to hand him his first start of the season in this pivotal clash.
This was not the only baffling call made by him tonight. He brought on Scott McTominay and Harry Maguire when United needed the second goal desperately. However, the most shocking tactic was to use Maguire as a strike partner for Ronaldo. No one could have imagined United utilising a strike duo of Ronaldo and Maguire.
The idea of going to back-three forced Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw to tuck into their own half. This obstructed the duo to venture forward and contribute to attack, something they have been flourishing at.
What does it mean for Manchester United?
Failure to win this game with a two-goal margin means the Red Devils will have to play a tough playoff to march into the final 16 of the European tournament.
Their possible opponents can be Ajax, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen, Red Bull Salzburg, Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk and Sporting CP.
The two legs will be played in February which is going to be a congested period for the Premier League giants.
Due to the World Cup schedule this year, games are already squeezed into a tight schedule. Having to play two more intense games in a busy period, with a trimmed squad, is not at all ideal for United.
However, all in all this was a good result for United – missing two first-choice players in Antony and Jadon Sancho, United were forced into tactical and personnel changes but still won a game through a mix of good defending, great goalkeeping and an excellent goal.
This United team is finally getting difficult to beat, which is not what you could have said of them at the start of the season. Ten Hag needs reinforcements if United are to win the Europa League, but at least he’s made his case that he deserves to be fully backed in the transfer market.