Manchester United will open their UEFA Europa League campaign by entertaining Real Sociedad at Old Trafford on Thursday evening. Erik ten Hag’s side will be seeking their fifth victory in a row this season after the opening two defeats in the Premier League.
United have a good record against the Spanish club, playing four times, winning twice and drawing twice. Only five goals have been scored, all of them for United (one being an own goal). Real Sociedad sit in ninth position in La Liga after four matches so far.
Ten Hag’s side sit in fifth place in the Premier League after six matches, turning their season around after the defeats to Brighton and Hove Albion and Brentford, winning their next four matches against Liverpool, Southampton, Leicester City and Arsenal.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Dalot, Maguire, Lindelof, Shaw;
Antony, Eriksen, Elanga;
David De Gea should be rested against Real Sociedad in favour of Martin Dubravka, who can make his debut for United and play in the UEFA Europa League and Carabao Cup, giving the Spanish goalkeeper a break from play to rejuvenate him at this stage of the season.
Dubravka needs minutes on the pitch if he is going to challenge De Gea, which will help bring out the best of both players. It would seem fairly likely that De Gea will be rested in the Europa League with United playing on a Thursday evening and a Sunday for the next two weeks.
Tom Heaton could also be selected to play in goal for United, but realistically, I see Dubravka getting his debut at Old Trafford on Thursday evening, if De Gea is rested. It would be a good idea to do that, seeing what the strengths and weaknesses of the goalkeeper are this season.
Defenders: Dalot, Maguire, Lindelof, Shaw
Ten Hag has already suggested that he will rest Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez and Tyrell Malacia for this match, keeping them ready for Sunday’s Premier League clash with Crystal Palace in which United will be seeking to Gai all three points once again.
I think Diogo Dalot will keep his place in the right-back role as I am not too sure on the fitness of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who could start if he’s fit. However, Dalot will be wanting to start against both Real Sociedad and Crystal Palace. Luke Shaw should start in the left-back position.
Tat would leave club captain Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof in the centre of the defence. Maguire played in the defeats to Brighton and Brentford and on the bench for the next four matches, coming on against Arsenal. Lindelof has yet to feature for United this season.
Midfield: Fred, Casemiro
It has already been stated by Ten Hag that Casemiro will start for the first time against Real Sociedad and Fred could also be in contention to face the Spanish side with Scott McTominay rested, at least on the bench after his good form so far this season.
The Brazilian duo have played together regularly for Brazil, so will know what to expect from each other. The Samba football on the pitch could also be linked to new summer signing Antony, who is also expected to start this match after a good start scoring against Arsenal on Sunday.
It is something that many United supporters have been looking forward to seeing – Casemiro starting for the club having come off the bench three times, playing 51 minutes of football in total. As he’s getting fitter, he will soon be a regular starter for his new club.
Attacking Midfield: Antony, Eriksen, Elanga
United’s attacking midfielders have some strength in depth this season, which is a good thing. It is expected that Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes could all be rested for this match, or parts of, allowing other players to show what they can do.
It has been said that Antony will probably start in this match, his second for the club as he gets used to his teammates and the rigours of playing for United. He’s match fit and ready to go. Christian Eriksen seems likely to start in the number ten role, could be replaced by Fernandes.
Anthony Elanga could start on the left-wing, which is his predominant position and has been the position whereby he has looked the best this season – having an assist to his name. It would be good to see this team tested against the Spanish club to see how they handle it.
Cristiano Ronaldo is set to start against the La Liga side on Thursday evening at Old Trafford – his second start for the club this season.It will be the first time the Portuguese forward has played in the UEFA Europa League, a new experience for him.
The Portuguese forward has not scored or assisted a goal this season and will be seeking to start that at some point. He looked lively against both Arsenal and Leicester City, which is a good start for him based on the rumours surrounding him during the summer.
Granted, he would have liked to have been playing in the UEFA Champions League this season but it is beyond his control. He should seek to help get United back in the elite European competition next season, which could see him stay at United for a third year.
Substitutes: De Gea, Heaton; Martinez, Malacia, Varane, Wan-Bissaka; Fernandes, van de Beek, McTominay; Rashford, Sancho, Garnacho
United can name up to 12 players on the bench with up to five of them being used as substitutes. The same rules apply as in the Premier League – each team is allowed three different opportunities to bring on their subs with a fourth opportunity during half time.
With injuries and absences to Ten Hag’s squad, we could see both De Gea and Heaton on the bench for this match. In defence, Martinez, Malacia, Varane and Wan-Bissaka could all be called upon if needed at any stage of the match. I would like to see the first three rested for Sunday.
In the midfield, Fernandes, Donny van de Beek and McTominay could get some involvement. In attack, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Alejandro Garnacho could all find minutes if attacking reinforcement is needed. This could be a good match for United.
Written by John Walker