Sports Mole previews Thursday’s Europa League clash between Manchester United and Real Sociedad, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
The Red Devils are 4-0 up from last week’s first leg and are expected to advance to the next round with minimal difficulty, even with a much-changed team.
Manchester United finally appear to be heading in the right direction again after a turbulent few weeks, although they were certainly given a scare by Newcastle United in the early stages of their Premier League encounter on Sunday evening.
Despite an inspired performance from the relegation-threatened Magpies, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s men struck through Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and of course, Bruno Fernandes, who wrapped up a 3-1 win for Man United with his 15th Premier League goal of the campaign.
Solskjaer’s side are now unbeaten in seven across all competitions and have won five in that run, while they have failed to score only once in their last 11 matches at Old Trafford – a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City in the EFL Cup on January 6 – finding the back of the net at least three times in their last four on home soil.
Fernandes, Rashford and James were also the goalscorers in last Thursday’s first leg with Real Sociedad, who were simply swept aside by the Red Devils as they put one foot firmly in the next round, so it would take a monumental collapse for Solskjaer’s side to somehow be sent packing now.
United have not managed to string three wins together across all competitions since December, and even though a repeat of last week’s 4-0 drubbing is highly unlikely given the raft of changes that Solskjaer is expected to make, a shell-shocked Sociedad will simply be playing for pride when they step out onto the Old Trafford turf.
Sociedad were considered genuine contenders for the La Liga title in the first half of the season, but in a tale as old as time, they struggled to keep pace with the big guns while juggling domestic and European commitments.
Imanol Alguacil‘s men only just scraped by in their Europa League group, but unless the Spanish side can mirror Barcelona’s famed Champions League comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the 2016-17 campaign, their continental dream will cease to exist for another season at least.
However, Sociedad recovered from their 4-0 thrashing at the hands of United at the weekend as they overcame Alaves by the same scoreline, with Barcelona-linked striker Alexander Isak registering a hat-trick – taking him up to 12 for the league campaign – and Portu also getting in on the act.
Repeating that feat at Old Trafford is a major ask for the visitors, although Isak has now made the net ripple nine times in his last six La Liga outings, and Sociedad have at least managed to win three games on the trot in the top flight before their journey to Manchester.
La Reales will likely be coming up against a weakened Man United team, so while it is not impossible for the Spanish side to produce a barnstorming comeback, Alguacil will simply want to see his side play with belief and valour before they take on Real Madrid in the league on Monday.
Manchester United Europa League form: W
Manchester United form (all competitions): WDWDWW
Real Sociedad Europa League form: LWDDDL
Real Sociedad form (all competitions): LDWWLW
Paul Pogba and Phil Jones are definitely out for Man United, while it remains to be seen if Scott McTominay, Edinson Cavani and Donny van de Beek will be available for the second leg as they aim to shake off various injuries.
Solskjaer will take no risks over the trio’s fitness given that United have a seemingly unassailable lead, and the United manager could hand starts to Dean Henderson, Brandon Williams, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata this week.
Adnan Januzaj‘s reunion with Man United last week was a torrid affair for the Belgian winger, and with Portu scoring at the weekend, Januzaj is not a nailed-on starter against his former club.
Manchester United possible starting lineup:
Henderson; Williams, Tuanzebe, Bailly, Telles; Fred, Matic; James, Mata, Rashford; Greenwood
Real Sociedad possible starting lineup:
Remiro; Gorosabel, Zubeldia, Sagnan, Monreal; Zubimendi, Merino, Silva; Portu, Isak, Oyarzabal
We say: Manchester United 2-1 Real Sociedad
It would be foolish to expect another 4-0 drubbing in the second leg given the numerous changes expected on the hosts’ end, and United need not go all out for a victory here, especially with Chelsea to come at the weekend. Sociedad have lost two more defenders ahead of this match to add to their growing list of absentees, and while this game should be a much tighter affair, Solskjaer’s men should have no trouble advancing to the last 16.
— to www.sportsmole.co.uk