Manchester United have been far slicker under Erik ten Hag and a generous rating out of 10 for this flat performance would be no more than five. André Onana had done enough to suggest he will be the upgrade on David de Gea the manager wants, until the closing moments when Joselu struck acrobatically to settle the encounter in Houston.

It was the goalkeeper’s loose header from a midfield area that ceded the ball and allowed Real Madrid to attack. They worked the play along the right where Lucas Vázquez crossed for the on-loan striker to hit a perfectly-executed bicycle kick past a flat-footed Onana, who watched on as he was beaten at his near post.

Onana was recruited to engineer a revolution in United’s build-up but the first act in his new colours was to watch haplessly as Jude Bellingham drifted onto Antonio Rüdiger’s ball and chipped the keeper to seize the lead for Real. The sixth-minute goal was Bellingham’s first for Los Merengues and the second blow United suffered on the night. Earlier, as Casemiro challenged Rodrygo, the Real player fell into young midfielder Kobbie Mainoo. Mainoo, not seeing the Brazilian, was hit in the back of the leg and, following treatment, was forced off.

Christian Eriksen entered the fray and Real continued to punch holes in United, as Bellingham constantly sought to run from in behind his No 10 berth. One break from Carlo Ancelotti’s men had Vinícius Júnior skating along the left and sliding the ball over to the England midfielder near United’s penalty spot.

The 20-year-old slipped and Ten Hag’s men escaped as they did again the next time Vinícius Júnior launched a raid. The Brazilian’s shot was a rasper, but Onana’s save, going to his left, was equal to it.

For Ten Hag, a master coach with a reputation for the forensic plotting of in-game strategy, witnessing his team continually hit on the break was a concern and one that needed addressing at half-time.

Mason Mount was anonymous in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Arsenal and here, again, a disappointment. There was a missed close range chance, a fluffed pass and a shove of Bellingham for his retaliation against Lisandro Martínez after the defender upended the Real No 5. Alejandro Garnacho was another who missed from close-in, while Marcus Rashford and Casemiro also misfired.

Onana, described as “less a sweeper-keeper than a holding midfielder” in the Uefa technical report of his display in Internazionale’s Champions League final defeat by Manchester City, had been tidy while illustrating his character; he gave a rollicking Martinez for a hashed clearance.

For the third match of United’s tour, Ten Hag fielded close to his strongest XI at a two-thirds full NRG Stadium (72,220 capacity), and made no changes for the second half. While it is doubtful Ancelotti’s removal of Bellingham at the break was to spare United further torment it must have been greeted with relief in their ranks.

There was cause for optimism when Garnacho and Bruno Fernandes combined along the left in a rare sequence of coherence that signalled a United phase of ascendancy. But that ended when Ten Hag changed every outfield player apart from Fernandes.

One of the fresh players – Antony – soon wandered infield from the right and unloaded with his left but the ball sailed over Andriy Lunin’s bar. Victor Lindelof, another new introduction, did the splits when trying to prevent a cross reaching Joselu in a move as inelegant as Onana’s save was impressive when the forward unloaded.

Joselu, a former Stoke City and Newcastle United player, had two more chances before his memorable first goal for Real. Diogo Dalot cleared off the line from the 33-year-old, before Onana did the same moments later. Next came his spectacular volley to seal the result and a below par outing for United - one Ten Hag will wish to soon forget.