Manchester United will kick off their UEFA Europa League knockout stages this week when they take on La Liga outfit Real Sociedad.

Manchester United will be aiming to take a step closer to the next phase of the UEFA Europa League when they lock horns with Real Sociedad in the first leg of their Round of 32 tie at the Allianz Stadium on Thursday night.

Manchester United began the season in the Champions League, but a capitulation towards the latter stages of the group phase saw them finish third behind PSG and RB Leipzig, resulting in them dropping down to the Europa League. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men head into the midweek clash on the back of a disappointing 1-1 draw against West Brom and will be hoping to return to winning ways.

Real Sociedad, meanwhile, are unbeaten in their last three matches, beating Getafe 1-0 in their most recent outing. Imanol Alguacil’s side just about managed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League, finishing second in Group G with nine points from six games, a point above third-placed AZ Alkmaar and they will be aiming to pull off a major upset on Thursday.

The tie was initially scheduled to take place at the Anoeta Stadium, Sociedad’s home, but has been moved to Turin due to travel restrictions owing to the pandemic. And ahead of this exciting clash this week, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.

Team News & Tactics

Real Sociedad

Heading into the game, Real Sociedad manager Imanol Alguacil will be without Miguel Angel Moya and Luca Sangalli while Carlos Fernandez also misses out with an injury. The La Liga giants are expected to line up in their trademark 4-1-4-1 formation in front of goalkeeper Alex Remiro.

Andoni Gorosabel and former Arsenal defender Nacho Monreal ought to be the two full-backs on the right and left side respectively, flanking the centre-back partnership of Igor Zubeldia and Aritz Elustondo, although Robin Le Normand is also an option at the manager’s disposal.

Club captain Asier Illarramendi ought to be the holding midfielder for Real Sociedad with his primary task being to ensure that Bruno Fernandes has little impact on the proceedings. He will have support from Mikel Merino, who will likely play in a more advanced role while the creative onus will fall on the shoulders of former Manchester City man David Silva.

Former Manchester United prodigy Adnan Januzaj should start on the right-wing, with the Belgian taking the field wanting to prove a point or two. Mikel Oyarzabal, who returned to action from injury in the last game, is a certainty on the left flank from where he will look to fashion chances for central striker Alexander Isak.

Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Remiro; Gorosabel, Zubeldia, Elustondo, Monreal; Illarramendi; Januzaj, Silva, Merino, Oyarzabal; Isak

Manchester United

Unlike their opponents, Manchester United have a host of injury issues to deal with ahead of their trip to Turin. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was already without star midfielder Paul Pogba for the contest, but will now have to cope with the absence of Edinson Cavani and Donny van de Beek as well, with the duo ruled out with muscle issues.

In addition, there are question marks over the availability of Scott McTominay and Anthony Martial as well even though the pair has travelled with the squad. There are also call-ups for youngsters Amad Diallo and Shola Shoretire, who recently signed a new contract with the club.

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Solskjaer is likely to make a few changes to the side that started in the draw against West Brom, starting from goal, with Dean Henderson expected to replace David de Gea as is customary for non-league games.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the undisputed starter at right-back while Luke Shaw should get the nod over Alex Telles on the left owing to his superior form. Club captain Harry Maguire is a certain starter at the heart of the United defence while Eric Bailly could come in to replace Victor Lindelof in order to better cope with the physical threat posed by Alexander Isak.

Fred is a certain starter in the middle of the park, but with McTominay’s involvement a doubt, Nemanja Matic could get the nod in the double pivot while Bruno Fernandes oversees the creative responsibilities in the No. 10 role. With no Cavani and Martial a doubt, Mason Greenwood should move to the centre-forward slot, with Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford occupying the flanks.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Henderson; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw; Fred, Matic; Mata, Fernandes, Rashford; Greenwood

Key Stats

  • Real Sociedad and Manchester United have only met twice previously, doing so in the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League group stage, with the Red Devils winning one and drawing one game each.
  • Real Sociedad have lost four of their last five knockout matches in major UEFA European competition (D1).
  • Manchester United are winless in their last nine European matches against Spanish opponents (D3 L6).
  • Real Sociedad star Adnan Januzaj has attempted 35 take-ons in the opposition half in the UEFA Europa League this season. Only Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe (36) has managed more.
  • Machester United have lost one of their last 16 UEFA Europa League knockout matches (W10 D5). However, that defeat came in their most recent such fixture, in the semi-finals against Sevilla last season.

Player to Watch

Mason Greenwood

Having enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last season, the sky was the limit for Manchester United’s latest academy prodigy. However, things haven’t gone as per plans for Greenwood this season, with the Englishman failing to hit the same heights as the last term.

Indeed, in 29 games across all competitions this season, the 19-year-old has managed a tally of just four goals and five assists. Only two of those goals have come in the 19-game run since December. However, fresh after signing a new long-term contract with the Red Devils, Greenwood will be hoping to celebrate the news with a goalscoring performance.

With Anthony Martial a doubt and Edinson Cavani out with an injury, it becomes important for the England international to step up to the plate and make a difference for Manchester United against Real Sociedad.


Real Sociedad 1-1 Manchester United

Both Real Sociedad and Manchester United are in decent nick heading into the game. However, the fact that Manchester United are missing a number of key players like Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Scott McTominay and Anthony Martial, which makes things a tad difficult.

Real Sociedad, on the other hand, have been boosted by the return of Mikel Oyarzabal and with Alexander Isak in good form leading up to the game, they should be able to trouble the Red Devils’ defence on the night. It promises to be a closely contested clash, with The Hard Tackle predicting this to end in a 1-1 draw.

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