Five minutes from the end of Manchester United’s 2-0 pre-season defeat to Real Madrid, the big screens at Houston’s NRG Stadium showed a close-up of Andre Onana. The lingering attention from the cameras was not because he had pulled off a good save — although he did make two of these during the game — but rather for what he had done with his feet.

Onana was level with Victor Lindelof about 10 yards out of his area and in possession of the ball, with Joselu, the Madrid striker, bearing down. Onana was unperturbed by the jeopardy and shuffled the ball before curling a pass behind Joselu to Brandon Williams on the left. There were gasps from the crowd at Onana’s confidence and execution.

This was the first time United supporters were seeing Onana in action and although his style has been well trailed — everybody knows how he likes to play — it was still striking to see the level to which he was willing to get involved in United’s build-up.

At a Luke Shaw throw-in during the first half, he came out the left of his box to offer himself. At United corners, he walked all the way to the edge of the centre circle, within passing range of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, United’s deepest outfield player.

This adventure from his goal line was why he was ready for a long-range pass as Madrid tried to counter, coming out of his area again to head the ball away. Unfortunately for him, the ball went to a white shirt and from there Madrid built a move that ended with Joselu scoring acrobatically from Lucas Vazquez’s cross. To put that goal down to Onana’s header would be unfair given his intervention likely stopped a one-on-one at source, but there will inevitably be comparisons to David de Gea for a decent while yet, given the dramatic change from one goalkeeper to the next.

Would De Gea, with his cat-like reflexes to close-range shots, have adjusted to at least make a dive for Joselu’s goal? Might De Gea have been able to come out best when Jude Bellingham ran clear to score Madrid’s first with a delightful dink?

Erik ten Hag said “it can’t be” that United concede a goal at the back post, as they did to Joselu, and whether that is down to Onana’s organising or Williams losing his man, there is work to do.

The truth is probably that De Gea would have also conceded in both those moments, the consequence of two supreme finishes. What is not in doubt is that Onana changes the way United can play through his eagerness and ability to start attacks.

His team-mates could sense that poise, and were reassured to give him the ball at the back. Removing those split-second doubts should create a smoother recycling of possession. While it felt like De Gea was a reticent participant in build-up play, Onana did his work against Madrid with purpose and speed.

By half-time, he had completed 22 passes from 22 attempts, with three described as long. That theme continued after the break.

In the 55th minute, he was 30 yards out of his goal and available for the back pass from Wan-Bissaka so he could play a quick left-footed ball out to Shaw, quickly.

In the 80th minute, he took a pass from Williams, waited for Federico Valverde to chase, then popped the ball round to Lindelof.

Of course, there needs to be a meaningful use for such an approach, it cannot just be ornament, and there were glimpses. In the 18th minute, Shaw went back to Onana, who decided Christian Eriksen was equipped to take the ball despite having two Madrid players around him. Eriksen swept to Raphael Varane and United got out, constructing a move that finished with a Mason Mount shot after a ricochet from Shaw’s cross.

Two minutes later, Onana was ahead of Varane when passing to Shaw and sprinting for the return. Instead, the ball went over the top to Mount, who would have been in on goal but for a heavy chest touch allowing Antonio Rudiger to steal possession. The option of Onana had given Real players something else to think about and in that moment Mount made his run.

Whether Onana has licence to roam where he feels is best, or whether there are rules imparted by Ten Hag time will tell. At the Qatar World Cup, Onana had a disagreement with Cameroon manager Rigobert Song over his advanced positioning and left the tournament early.

Ten Hag is more aligned, however. He said: “Definitely there are principles but he’s a ’keeper who can be used as a plus one in the back, so we definitely will in our strategy and tactics put that in.”

The one shaky moment came on the hour when Onana gave an unconvincing punch at a cross with Eduardo Camavinga to concede a corner. But at the next cross, he caught the ball and looked for a quick throw, there were none on so he rolled to Lisandro Martinez and United launched a counter that saw Marcus Rashford’s shot blocked.

Onana saved well in the first half by diving to his left to palm away Vinicius Junior’s strike, after Wan-Bissaka had been oddly reluctant to make a challenge.

In the second half, Onana moved well across his line to save with his legs when Brahim Diaz hit a cross to the far post to tee up Joselu’s low shot.

Ten Hag added in general appraisal: “I think good, solid, two very good saves, he was there in the moment the team needed him, he did his job, he integrated well in his team.

“This is the first game and we have a lot of work to do. The defending part, for the second goal we are not close at the back post. It can’t be that a goal can come there. There are rules we have to follow and they will come quick that we integrate into our way of play.”

(Top photo: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)