Jose Mourinho’s side were dominated for large portions of the game, with Casemiro tapping in from close range to open the scoring in the first half.
Isco capped off a brilliant Madrid move to double the score after half time and looked to sealed the victory, but Romelu Lukaku pounced on a Keylor Navas spillage to give the Europa League holders hope.
United improved after getting on the scoresheet but ultimately could not find the equaliser. Here are five things we learned from their defeat in Skopje…
Manchester United vs Real Madrid player ratings
Bale plays but Mourinho will still be waiting
There was more than a hint of mischief in Jose Mourinho’s words when he claimed that he would entertain the idea of signing Gareth Bale if he was not named in Zinedine Zidane’s starting line-up for this meeting in Skopje. It was not only a dare to Zidane but a dare to the assembled press pack to stand by their reporting.
“If he’s not in the club’s plans and what you are writing is true, that the arrival of another player [would mean] Gareth would be on his way out of Real Madrid, I would try to be waiting for him on the other side,” he teased. As it happened, Bale started, but does not mean Mourinho admires him any less.
Indeed, as The Independent reported on Monday, there is a sense that it is not down to Zidane, the media or even Mourinho if Bale moves, but more down to the player himself. That he was part of Zidane’s plan tonight matters less than whether he is part of them long-term. Mourinho will still be waiting ‘on the other side’ should Bale’s future become clearer before 1 September. No team-sheet has changed that.
Form of back three still worrying
Mourinho persisted with the back three system tested in United’s first and final pre-season friendlies, but there was a necessary change in personnel. Daley Blind has had a wretched summer and was replaced by Matteo Darmian on the left-hand side of the three, but the Dutchman’s chances of reassuming his place against West Ham United were done no harm by his defensive partners.
Smalling struggled again, Lindelof still looks apprehensive in and out of possession and Darmian, who has enjoyed a decent pre-season, was understandably uncomfortable in the new role. Even if the Italian had…