Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag admitted he left Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench during the 6-3 mauling at Manchester City “out of respect for his big career”.
Ronaldo was an unused substitute as hat-tricks from Erling Haaland and Phil Foden fired City to an emphatic derby win.
Instead, Ten Hag opted to introduce Anthony Martial off the bench to freshen up his attack, with the Frenchman netting two consolation goals late on.
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"I didn't bring him [Ronaldo] on out of respect for his big career," the Dutchman said at his post-match press conference.
"And the other thing, there was then the advantage I could bring Antony Martial on. He needs the minutes but I don't want to point it out like that."
Ronaldo, who was denied a move away from Old Trafford this summer, has started just one game in the Premier League for United this season.
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United legend Roy Keane slammed United and Ten Hag after the match for showing the Portuguese legend "disrespect".
"I think he should have been let go before the transfer window," Keane said on Sky Sports.
"I think the manager is holding on to him. Okay, you say you need options, but you don’t hold on to Ronaldo to sit on the bench. He’s one of the greatest players ever.
"I think United have shown nothing but disrespect to Ronaldo, they should have let him go when the opportunity came."
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The harrowing defeat ended a four-match winning run for United in the league and leaves them sixth in the table.
"We had a lack of belief. I'm surprised why we didn't bring it on the pitch,” Ten Hag told Sky Sports.
"It was four weeks ago, but I had seen a different team with a different spirit and a different vibe. Today, we weren't convincing. From the first minute, we were not on the front foot and we were not brave in possession.
"It's always difficult to find out why that is, especially straight after the game. I will have to talk to my players and find out.
"They know they can do better. You saw the performances against Arsenal and Liverpool but if you don't fight - which we didn't - then you have a problem against a team like Manchester City.
"Once again, it was a lack of belief."
United next travel to Cyprus to play Omonia in the Europa League on Thursday.
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