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The winner of this game will finish top of Group E and advance to the last 16
Real Sociedad’s previous victory at Old Trafford means they are three points clear
Manchester United must win to avoid the Europa League knockout round play-offs
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The first meeting between these sides was tight and low-scoring, and this match could follow the same pattern.
Back under 2.5 goals when Real Sociedad take on Manchester United on Thursday. (+100)
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Manchester United beat West Ham United 1-0 at the weekend to move within one point of the top four of the Premier League. It was a performance that illustrated why they are a better team than they were in 2021/22, but also the fact that they are still a work in progress.
Marcus Rashford’s towering header (the England international did a good impression of Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best player in the air of all time) was enough to give United all three points. But the home team also relied on some backs-to-the-wall defending, particularly from Lisandro Martinez and Diogo Dalot, as well as the shot-stopping prowess of David de Gea.
West Ham could count themselves unfortunate to have departed Old Trafford empty-handed. They saw plenty of the ball in the second half and created some excellent chances to draw level. But United hung on and the players’ celebrations at the final whistle provided further evidence of the team spirit and togetherness that Erik ten Hag has been able to foster since he took the reins in the summer.
The Dutchman will want to see his team get better at controlling games, starting with Thursday’s trip to Spain. This match will serve as a useful yardstick to measure United’s progress over the last couple of months: back on matchday one of the Europa League, they went down 1-0 to Real Sociedad at Old Trafford.
United have won four games out of four in this competition since then, although they have not always been convincing. A win in the Basque Country would underline their credentials as one of the favorites to win the Europa League with the best online sportsbooks.
That triumph at Old Trafford means Real Sociedad have the edge in the race for the top spot in this group. They have been close to flawless in the Europa League group stage and are the only team in the competition to have won all five games. What is more, la Real have conceded just one goal and are averaging two per match.
However, their last two La Liga outings have both ended in defeat. Sociedad lost 1-0 to Real Valladolid on October 22, before suffering a 2-0 reverse at the hands of Real Betis at the weekend. Those two games were the first in any competition that Imanol Alguacil’s men failed to find the back of the net.
Real Sociedad are still in a decent position in the La Liga standings. They sit fifth after 12 rounds of fixtures and are just a point adrift of the top four, which means they still have a good chance of occupying a Champions League qualification spot by the time the division pauses for World Cup 2022 in a couple of weeks’ time.
Like Manchester United, Sociedad’s aim is to be competing in Europe’s biggest competition next season. For now, though, they would certainly be able to content themselves with a first-place finish in Group E of the Europa League.
Finishing top of your group confers a theoretical advantage in the Champions League. The teams that advance in the first place are drawn against one of the group runners-up in the round of 16 - this is often, but not always, an easier game. The incentive to progress as group winners has grown even stronger in the Europa League since the tournament’s format was tweaked last season.
Finishing top allows a side to go straight through to the round of 16 of the continent’s secondary competition. Finishing second brings a place in the knockout round playoffs, where the opponents will be one of the eight teams that finished third in their Champions League groups.
At the time of writing Barcelona, Juventus and Ajax are among the sides that look set to take part in those play-offs after Christmas. Those clubs have won 11 Champions Leagues between them, and despite their struggles at Europe’s top table this term, no one will relish facing them for a place in the last 16 of the Europa League.
So while Real Sociedad and Manchester United have successfully negotiated the group stage with a game to spare, they both still have something to play for on matchday six. A draw would be enough for the La Liga outfit to finish top and they will duly look to keep things tight throughout.
United will not go gung-ho either, so this could be a cagey match between two teams that will protect against making errors that could prove fatal to their chances of winning Group E. This may well be an absorbing encounter, but we should not expect it to be a goal-laden one. Go for under 2.5 goals at the Estadio de Anoeta.
|Teams||Real Sociedad vs Manchester United|
|Location||Estadio de Anoeta, San Sebastian, Spain|
|Time||Thursday, 3 November 2022, 13.45 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
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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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