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La Real will look to keep things tight at Old Trafford, so goals could be in short supply.
Pick made on 09/05/2022 at 10:37 AM EST
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What a difference a few weeks can make. After beginning the 2022/23 campaign with back-to-back defeats by Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford, Manchester United looked to be stuck in a rut. Last season was disastrous for the Red Devils, who relied on West Ham United losing their last match in order to scrape qualification for the Europa League. That was quite the comedown given they had begun the campaign with hopes of challenging for the Premier League title, having finished as runners-up the previous year.
Erik ten Hag was appointed in the summer, but those losses on matchday one and matchday two suggested it would take a while for the Dutchman to lift United out of their malaise. Yet a 2-1 victory over Liverpool sparked a revival which continued at the weekend, as Ten Hag’s side beat Arsenal 3-1. The Gunners were the better team for long periods of the match, but United stood strong in defense and caused problems on the counter-attack. They have now won four games in a row and will be looking to make it five when they begin their European campaign this week.
United, to be clear, would rather not be in this competition. They are one of the biggest clubs in Europe and feel that the Champions League is the place where they belong, despite an underwhelming record in the tournament throughout the post-Alex Ferguson era. But now that they are in the Europa League, we can expect United to take it seriously. Jose Mourinho did that in 2016/17, and he was rewarded as the Red Devils won the competition for the first time.
The games will come thick and fast over the next two months, with the group stage of the Europa League crammed into just eight weeks ahead of the 2022 World Cup. That will be a challenge for every club to handle, and it would only be natural if United had half an eye on Sunday’s trip to Crystal Palace.
The same is true of Real Sociedad, who face Getafe this weekend. Imanol Alguacil’s side have made a decent start to the La Liga season, beating Cadiz and Elche, drawing with Atletico Madrid, and playing pretty well in a 4-1 defeat by Barcelona, the scoreline for which rather flattered Xavi Hernandez’s men.
Real Sociedad’s record in Europe in recent years is arguably not as good as it should be. In each of their last three participations in the Europa League, La Real have been eliminated in the first knockout round. That is the fate they suffered last term, going down 5-3 on aggregate to RB Leipzig – a tough tie, granted, but one that the Basque outfit were still disappointed to lose.
Real Sociedad will be targeting a top-four finish in La Liga, but with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid likely to take three of those places, they face a battle to finish ahead of the likes of Sevilla, Real Betis, Valencia and Villarreal.
The Europa League now offers an alternative route into the Champions League, with the victors going straight into the group phase. That is a prize worth fighting for, and the best online sportsbooks have Real Sociedad as the fourth-favorites at this early stage, behind only Arsenal, Manchester United and Roma.
Ten Hag will probably make changes to his starting XI given the hectic nature of the recent schedule. Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire are expected to feature after both players have been left out of the line-up in the last few Premier League games, while Casemiro could make his first start after moving to Old Trafford from Real Madrid.
Substantial changes to the XI could reduce United’s rhythm early on, and Real Sociedad’s mean defensive unit will not be straightforward to break down. La Real have kept a clean sheet in 50 per cent of their four games so far this season, and they also looked reasonably solid in that 1-1 draw with Atletico at the weekend. Defensive resolve was Real Sociedad’s best feature last season, with only Real Madrid, Sevilla and Athletic Club conceding fewer goals in La Liga.
That points towards a low-scoring game at Old Trafford, especially as neither side would be too dissatisfied with a draw. Back under 2.5 goals when Manchester United begin their Europa League campaign against Real Sociedad on Thursday.
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|Teams||Manchester United vs Real Sociedad|
|Location||Old Trafford, Manchester, England|
|Time||Thursday, 8 September 2022, 15.00 PM EST|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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