What we learned from Manchester United's friendly defeat vs Cadiz

Mitch Wilks
Zidane Iqbal staked his claim in the defeat
Zidane Iqbal staked his claim in the defeat / Jan Kruger/GettyImages

Manchester United returned to action amid the World Cup break with a 4-2 friendly defeat away to Cadiz on Wednesday.

The game marked the first time the Red Devils took to the pitch since their late win at Fulham before club football came to a halt in November, and for the first time since Cristiano Ronaldo's release from the club was confirmed.

As expected, there was plenty to take away from a six-goal contest that ended in defeat for Erik ten Hag's side, who would've no doubt wanted to get a win under their belt as they prepare for a return to action on December 21.

So, with that in mind and the goals out of the way, here's exactly what we learned about United over the course of an intriguing 90 minutes in Spain.

Martin Dubravka is alive

Since signing on loan from Newcastle in the summer, Dubravka has been able to make absolutely no impact at United at all.

That doesn't sound all too surprising, but when you consider there were actually Dubravka compilations floating around Twitter when the deal was done, it definitely means something. Seriously, that happened.

The 31-year-old pulled on the shirt and took to the pitch as a United player for just the second time against Cadiz, following on from his debut in the EFL Cup third round against Aston Villa - also a 4-2 scoreline.

However, he didn't cover himself in glory. While Dubravka couldn't do much to stop either of the opening two goals, his performance in the second half was shaky. Clumsy hands, shanked kicks and two more goals conceded.

United should probably sign actual competition for David De Gea soon enough.

Zidane Iqbal continues to shine

United fans got a proper glimpse of what Iqbal is all about during the club's pre-season tour ahead of the 2022/23 campaign.

Iqbal saw plenty of minutes, often alongside Charlie Savage, and looked a natural among the first-team squad.

That continued here, and then some. On a night where plenty of first-team players looked well off the pace, the 19-year-old made another fine account of himself. He won the penalty to get United back into the game, was always available to receive the ball and moved it intelligently - be it by picking out a smart pass or driving forward through the lines himself.

He's spent plenty of time training with the first-team so far, but been unable to get in over Christian Eriksen and Casemiro. Iqbal looks more than ready for a regular taste of senior football, though, which United ought to provide in some capacity.

A loan move in January would be ideal for the exciting teenager.

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Full-back remains a problem area

While Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw shine at the World Cup for Portugal and England respectively, Ten Hag is left desperately trying to get something out of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams.

Both Wan-Bissaka and Williams have largely become forgotten entities at United, and the reasons why were unfortunately rather obvious against Cadiz. Sure, the game was a return from a lengthy injury layoff for the pair. Excuses aside, neither looked remotely assured in possession or out of it.

But that's only half the battle. It's been clear for a while now that neither are at the required level - a concern considering Wan-Bissaka was signed for some £50m - and yet they still find themselves second choice to United's starting candidates.

Injuries to either Dalot or Shaw could land United in hot water, with full-backs so key to Ten Hag's developing style of play. Some serious reshaping and recruitment of the department is needed as soon as possible - it's hard to see a way back for either of these two.

Youth isn't always the answer

With this essentially being a second pre-season for United, wholesale changes and chances for youngsters to get a runout felt inevitable.

Ten Hag made 10 changes for the second half, with the side resembling something you'd expect to see in the FA Youth Cup. And while they were never going to be perfect, the difference between the men and the boys showed, ultimately winning Cadiz the game.

It's the bigger picture that again is important, here. United have fixtures coming thick and fast when club football returns. It's easy for fans to clamour for youth players to be given their chance all at once, but striking the balance is key. There were promising moments against Cadiz, but United's second half XI looked largely out of their depth for the most part.

No doubt the kids will learn from it, but United cannot afford to be throwing them all in at the deep end in competitive fixtures such as cup competitions. Football simply doesn't work that way.