Manchester United face Real Sociedad at Old Trafford in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg on Thursday evening and will be seeking to confirm their place in Friday’s draw for the round of 16 stage of the competition. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be happy with his side after their last two matches, both wins; 4-0 over the Spanish side in the first leg of the round of 32 and a 3-1 victory over Newcastle United in the Premier League with seven goals scored and one conceded in the last two matches. This came after draws against Everton (3-3) and West Bromwich Albion (1-1). United will need to continue to grind out results and the matches will become tougher as February turns into March with Chelsea and Manchester City in the next three league matches.
This season has not exactly gone to plan for Solskjaer but there is a clear direction that the club are heading in. On Sunday ahead of the Newcastle match, United had scored 241 goals in 128 matches, which has now turned into 244 goals in 129 matches. Jose Mourinho’s United managed to score 244 goals in 144 matches, so Solskjaer’s side have bettered Mourinho’s side’s goalscoring in 15 fewer matches which sees them scoring on average 1.89 goals per match statistically. Granted, United have conceded ten more goals in fewer matches than Mourinho but inn my opinion, they are playing a more exciting brand of football with little of Mourinho’s ‘park the bus’ football, which is a positive. It will take time but United are on the right road to success now.
How United have faired against Real Sociedad in European competition.
United and Real Sociedad have met three times in the history of both clubs. The first two meetings happened in the UEFA Champions League during the 2013/14 season whilst David Moyes was managing the club. The meetings happened in the group stages of the competition with United winning the first meeting 1-0, which was played at Old Trafford with the only goal of the game scored by Iñigo Martínez’s own goal. The second group stage match was a 0-0 draw played at the Estadio Anoeta. In the first match, only three players remain at the club; David De Gea and Phil Jones are the only players still at the club and Michael Carrick, who is now on the coaching staff. Jones and De Gea also featured in the second match between the two clubs.
United are undefeated against the Spanish side, winning two matches and drawing the other, scoring one goal and keeping two clean sheets. Real Sociedad have lost just eight competitive matches this season, five in La Liga, one in the Copa del Rey and two in the Europa League. United have lost eight matches this season; four in the Premier League, one in the Carabao Cup and three in the Champions League. Both teams are flying high in their relevant leagues this season, with United in second place and Real Sociedad in fifth also both teams are still in cup competitions; Copa del Rey and the Emirates FA Cup, also featuring in the knockout stages of European competition. United beat the Spanish side 4-0 last week and will be looking to win again.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Real Sociedad in the UEFA Europa League at Old Trafford on Thursday evening…
Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
The 23-year-old clearly deserves some more opportunities in goal for United this season, in the Premier League too. If he’s not playing regularly, he’s not going to develop. I tend to ignore all the media rumours, unless I feel the need to give an opinion, which may allow people to see things in a different angle. It is rare that journalists print the truth, especially when rumours are rife, especially when concerning a player at Manchester United. Henderson have appeared just 12 times this season, largely playing in the cup competitions. In those 12 appearances, he has conceded nine goals, keeping seven clean sheets. There is ability in the player and I feel he should be tested more against a better quality of team, which will give more of an indication about him.
Defenders: Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe, Eric Bailly, Alex Telles
United can afford to change the defence in this match, providing all of the players work together to get the job done. United won 4-0 in the first leg, scoring four away goals. Keeping a clean sheet or limiting the Spanish side to just one goal will be the key here. Of course, United scoring a goal or two will change the outcome of the match the United should aim for that first. Brandon Williams and Alex Telles should feature in the fullback positions with Axel Tuanzebe and Eric Bailly partnering in the centre of defence. It will give Bailly more game time this season, the same for Tuanzebe, who has all the ingredients to rise to the challenge, despite being unfortunate a few times. Harry Maguire could get a break ahead of the Chelsea match.
Midfield: Fred, Ethan Galbraith
United have Paul Pogba, Donny van de Beek and Scott McTominay on the sidelines for this match so Solskjaer will have just Fred and Nemanja Matic to field against the Spanish side. Ethan Galbraith has been added to the squad, so I think he should start against Real Sociedad. He could get a great match under his belt in the first team and give Solskjaer something to think about for the future. Of course, the like of Hannibal Mejbri would have been involved if he was fit, which is a shame. Perhaps we can see more of him at some point before the end of the season. Fred should start with Galbraith, giving him some experience and ability alongside him. Matic could be called from the bench, should he be needed.
Attacking Midfield: Amad Diallo, Juan Mata, Daniel James
I would expect the likes of Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes to be rested for this match, but on the bench just in case they are needed, which is always apossibility. I would like to see Amad Diallo, Juan Mata and Daniel James start in the three behind the striker. Mata deserves some more game time this season and in the number ten role, he could inspire this youthful team to achieve something with his footballing brain and ability for a pass. James has scored in his last two matches, so this would be a good match to continue his good form. Diallo made his debut from the bench a week ago which was good for him, be starting in this match with the majority of the pressure off the squad, would be a good time. He might just shock everyone?
Forwards: Mason Greenwood
Anthony Martial is in poor form and that does not seem to be getting any better. He started at the weekend but offered very little as United beat Newcastle United 3-1 at Old Trafford. Edinson Cavani has also been ruled out of this match, seemingly saving him for Chelsea on Sunday and with Rashford likely to get a rest, albeit on the bench, this should give Mason Greenwood the chance to lead the line in the European competition which could see him kickstart his good form once again. He has already scored four goals and five assists already this season and will be looking to at least match his tally from last season, which saw him end the 2019/20 season on 17 goals and five assists for the first team, scoring two more goals at U21 and U23 level.
Substitutes: David De Gea, Lee Grant; Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka; Bruno Fernandes, Nemanja Matic, Shola Shoretire; Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford
United will have eleven players named on the bench with Solskjaer able to call on five of them during the course of the match. David De Gea and Lee Grant could be on the bench to make up the numbers, with five players on the sidelines though injury and fitness issues. In defence, the experience of Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka could be key, should they be needed during the match. In midfield, Bruno Fernandes, Nemanja Matic and Shola Shoretire could all play a part with the 17-year-old making his debut in the Premier League from the bench at the weekend. In attack, the experience of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford will be there to be called upon should United need to do something to secure the win.
Written by John Walker