Erik ten Hag laments 'unacceptable' Manchester United after fiery defeat to Atletico Madrid

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atletico madrid Erik ten Hag laments 'unacceptable' Manchester United after fiery friendly defeat - AFP
atletico madrid Erik ten Hag laments 'unacceptable' Manchester United after fiery friendly defeat - AFP

Atletico Madrid 1 Manchester United 0

Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Manchester United’s first team squad on Sunday in the wake of a defeat which posed a number of crucial questions for his new manager Erik ten Hag, barely a week before the Premier League season kicks off.

A late winner from Joao Felix, followed by the 88th minute sending off of Fred, concluded a disappointing afternoon for United at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo; one which left their manager describing their finishing as “not acceptable.”

Now, the Dutch coach turns his attention to the second part of his weekend double header, and his first game in charge at Old Trafford, when United conclude their warm-up campaign against Rayo Vallecano on Sunday afternoon, with Ten Hag promising a completely new starting XI.

Ronaldo, still insistent that he wishes 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 served to underline that, whatever other issues surround Ronaldo, the absence of his goals in the new season will be a difficult obstacle for Ten Hag to overcome without a significant signing.

After United had scored 13 times in their previous four friendly fixtures, the potential loss of Ronaldo may not have seemed so pressing for Ten Hag, despite the fact no other United player came within 14 goals of the 24 claimed by the veteran last season.

Ten Hag confirmed that Ronaldo will be involved against Vallecano but did not indicate whether he would start, after being involved in United’s first team training for less than a week. “Tomorrow he will be in the squad. We’ll see how long he can play,” said the Dutchman.

Meanwhile, Ten Hag has added former Blackburn striker Benni McCarthy to his backroom staff as a first-team coach. The South African will focus on United's attacking plays and positioning.

The 44-year-old former South African international played in the Premier League with Blackburn and West Ham and remains a friend of Ten Hag’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 academy players’ route to the senior squad, plus focusing on players out on loan.

'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 substitutions made by Diego Simeone on the hour.

The Premier League side gave the ball away cheaply on the right-wing, with Koke intercepting and feeding Alvaro Morata who intelligently held up the ball before setting up Felix to score with a superb 18-yard finish.

“We learned a lot but in the end, it’s about a result and the score is not good,” said Ten Hag.

“You have to take benefit if you create chances and we created many chances. We needed to produce at least one goal and we didn’t.

“From the few chances they created, they scored, so from that part I am not satisfied. It’s not acceptable. You have to be sharp in the box, at both ends."

The response of Fred, one of seven bookings in a combustible fixture that was often far from 'friendly,' was to foul Morata, and then plant a foot on him, earning a second yellow card and ensuring United concluded injury-time with ten men.

The rare sight of a red card in a pre-season game reflected the legacy of the ill-tempered Champions League last 16 meeting between these clubs in March.

Fred saw red in a game that had plenty of bite for a friendly game - GETTY IMAGES
Fred saw red in a game that had plenty of bite for a friendly game - GETTY IMAGES

And the first half had featured a full-blooded squaring off between both sets of players after Scott McTominay fouled Atletico keeper Jan Oblak in a challenge for a high ball.

“I like competitive games but always with respect and I don’t want to have injuries, that’s why you have to keep respect for each other,” said Ten Hag.

“I have seen some tackles that were maybe a little bit over the limit.”

Yet the finale was a very different proposition to a first half in which Anthony Martial continued his pre-season improvements and played himself into a number of shooting positions without ever really testing Oblak.

Martial’s best chance, carved out by a superb Marcus Rashford pass, saw him place a shot tamely at the Atletico keeper, a finish indicative of a striker who has scored five Premier League goals in 30 games over the past two seasons.

Eriksen offers reason for optimism

In a more even second half, United still created the better chances, particularly after the 68th minute introduction of new signing Christian Eriksen who almost immediately created two brilliant openings.

First, Anthony Elanga was unable to connect with a far-post cross from the veteran Dane and then Eriksen’s corner found the unmarked Harry Maguire who could only head wide of the target.

“We know what he is able to do,” said Ten Hag of Eriksen. “With our front men, he is able to give them in the right moment the right passes.  So he will create chances; then it is about finishing.”

Another United substitute, Facundo Pellestri, also missed an excellent opportunity, seeing his follow-up shot deflected wide after a committed Rashford run and shot ended in a block by Axel Witsel.

With Jadon Sancho missing the game through illness, Ten Hag had manipulated team selections to try to hand a full 90 minutes to as many players as possible in the two friendly games that precede the season opener at home to Brighton on Sunday.

New centre-half signing Lisandro Martinez was an unused substitute in the 25-degree heat of Oslo, presumably saving him for some minutes against Vallecano, while Sancho’s fitness will be judged on the morning of the game.

Lisandro Martinez was an unused substitute - GETTY IMAGES
Lisandro Martinez was an unused substitute - GETTY IMAGES

Elsewhere, there were signs of clear improvement in United’s ability to play out from the back, despite some spells of furious pressing from an Atletico side that is around a week behind them in terms of pre-season fitness preparations.

Newcomer Tyrell Malacia showed he is likely to offer a serious challenge to Luke Shaw for the left-back position and linked tidily with Rashford repeatedly in the first half.

And Maguire, who had been booed by some sections of his own supporters during United’s previous warm-up games, not only performed well but was treated warmly by a 26,129 crowd that was predominantly backing the English club.