Manchester United’s shock loss to Real Sociedad will come as a bitter pill after four successive wins.
Maybe given the backdrop of the evening’s subdued mood around Old Trafford following the news of The Queen’s passing, the performance wasn’t totally unsurprising. But the game reminded everyone that the United rebuild is still embryonic.
Dropped duo Cristiano Ronaldo and captain Harry Maguire came back into the fold, and showed why they are not in Erik ten Hag’s best XI. Neither put in shifts that would have caused the manager to question his primary line-up preference.
But it’s these players who need to be the morale bedrock of the team, the figures to pick up the dressing room after a humbling defeat. Ten Hag is a disciplinarian but also gives freedoms to senior players.
Bruno Fernandes explained so during pre-season. He said: “He [Ten Hag] brings discipline but he also gives players the freedom to make choices.
“He has his own rules we have to follow, but he also wants to give some responsibility to the older ones.”
United lacked leadership last season but Ten Hag seems eager to bring out such qualities in the more aged squad members, whether playing or not.
Tom Heaton, 36, is firmly behind David de Gea – who along with Phil Jones is the longest serving current squad member – in the goalkeeping pecking order but his voice and experience in the dressing room will be invaluable.
By putting the onus on certain players to lead the squad, Ten Hag can encourage senior members to shoulder responsibility during the tough times and lead the charge for the revival.
De Gea (31-years-old) and Ronaldo (37) come into that category while club skipper Maguire (29) and vice-captain Fernandes (28) will also guide younger teammates. It’s a clever ploy; the General sets the standards while the lieutenants must ensure they are kept.
The responsibility is now on both personnel to re-rally their troops after Thursday’s defeat as the rebuild continues.