Manchester United will hope to clinch the top spot in the UEFA Europa League Group E when they face Real Sociedad at the Reale Arena on Thursday.

The curtains will fall on the first phase of the 2022/23 UEFA Europa League with Matchday 6 of the group stage. Several groups remain evenly poised, and in Group E, Real Sociedad and Manchester United will wage a battle for the top spot, with three points separating the two teams.

Real Sociedad entered the 2022/23 UEFA Europa League as the second favourite to win Group E. But the Basque giants have enjoyed a perfect campaign so far, winning all five games to go into the final round of fixtures on top of the standings. On the other hand, Manchester United are three adrift of La Real, winning four of their five games thus far.

The two teams have had similar fortunes in their respective leagues, with Real Sociedad and Manchester United in the mix for a top-four finish. Both teams are currently fifth in their league standings after amassing a shade over 20 points. But Manchester United will have better form heading into the contest after beating West Ham United at the weekend, while Real Sociedad lost 2-0 to Real Betis.

The reverse fixture ended in a 1-0 win for Real Sociedad, with Brais Mendez scoring from the spot. The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Europa League encounter ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides.

Team News & Tactics

Real Sociedad

Imanol Alguacil has an injury crisis hampering his preparations before Manchester United visit the Reale Arena. On Thursday, the Real Sociedad manager might be bereft of the services of as many as eight first-team players.

Aihen Munoz, Ander Barrenetxea, Takefusa Kubo, Mikel Oyarzabal, Umar Sadiq, Mohamed-Ali Cho, David Silva and Ander Martin are all either major doubts or certain to be unavailable on Thursday. The myriad of injuries will leave Alguacil short of quality offensive options against Manchester United.

Alex Remiro will likely take his place between the sticks for Real Sociedad, who will line up in a 4-3-3 formation against Manchester United. Igor Zubeldia and Jon Pacheco should form the central defensive partnership, and the duo will look to keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet. Andoni Gorosabel and Diego Rico will be the two full-backs.

Martin Zubimendi, whose performances have attracted several European bigwigs, will look to hold the fort in the middle of the park. Zubimendi will aim to keep Bruno Fernandes in check, stopping Manchester United’s creative gameplay. Mikel Merino and Ander Guevara will provide defensive support to Zubimendi while pushing Real Sociedad forward during transitions.

Brais Mendez will be the creative supremo for Real Sociedad, looking to pull the strings from high up the pitch. Finally, Carlos Fernandez and Alexander Sorloth should form the strike partnership for the hosts against Manchester United.

Probable Lineup (4-3-1-2): Remiro; Gorosabel, Zubeldia, Pacheco, Rico; Merino, Zubimendi, Guevara; Mendez; Sorloth, Fernandez

Manchester United

Unlike his counterpart in the Manchester United dugout, Erik ten Hag does not have any new roster issues to deal with ahead of the trip to the Reale Arena. The Manchester United manager might be without five first-team players.

The main concern surrounds Anthony Martial, but the Frenchman is nearing his return to action. However, the game against Real Sociedad might have come too soon for Martial. Raphael Varane, Axel Tuanzebe, Brandon Williams, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are the other absentees for Manchester United.

Victor Lindelof and Antony missed out against West Ham United. But Lindelof should be available on Thursday. However, Lindelof might not start against Real Sociedad, with Harry Maguire likely to pair up with Lisandro Martinez at the heart of the Manchester United defence. Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw should be the two full-backs, with David de Gea picking himself between the sticks.

Casemiro and Christian Eriksen have forged a solid midfield partnership this season, and the duo will be pivotal for the visitors. So Scott McTominay and Fred will again be options on the bench for ten Hag. Meanwhile, Antony and Jadon Sancho have missed the trip to Spain, with the latter recovering from an illness.

Bruno Fernandes will be unavailable to take on Aston Villa this weekend due to suspension. So the Portuguese playmaker will likely play the entire game against Real Sociedad. Anthony Elanga and Marcus Rashford should be the two wide attackers, with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the line for Manchester United.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Dalot, Maguire, Martinez, Shaw; Casemiro, Eriksen; Elanga, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford; Ronaldo

Key Stats

  • Real Sociedad defeated Manchester United on Matchday 1 of this season’s UEFA Europa League, earning their first victory against the Red Devils at the fifth attempt – also scoring their first goal in this fixture.
  • Manchester United have lost their most recent two matches against Spanish opponents, against Atletico Madrid last season and Real Sociedad this season. They last lost three in a row against Spanish clubs between December 2018 and August 2020 (four games).
  • Real Sociedad have won their last two home matches in the UEFA Europa League, as many wins as in their previous ten such games in the competition (D4 L4). They last won three consecutive home matches in a single season in major European competitions in 1998/99 in the UEFA Cup.
  • Manchester United have won six of their last seven away games in the UEFA Europa League (L1), scoring 19 goals across those seven outings at an average of 2.7 per match.
  • Real Sociedad have enforced the most high turnovers of any team in the Europa League this season (61). Only Fenerbahce (7.3) have allowed their opponents fewer passes on average for each defensive intervention (PPDA of 7.5).

Player to Watch

Cristiano Ronaldo

Embed from Getty Images

The 2022/23 season has been a case of “one step forward and two steps back” for Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese international is not a guaranteed starter for Manchester United and is battling for a place in the starting eleven, week after week.

He might have thought that he turned a corner after scoring against Sheriff Tiraspol last week. But Ronaldo could not influence the game much versus West Ham United this past weekend. The veteran striker will be eager to make his mark at Real Sociedad, especially with Anthony Martial on the cusp of returning.


Real Sociedad 0-1 Manchester United

The two teams played a tight game in the reverse fixture, and it should be more of the same on Thursday. Real Sociedad and Manchester United have not necessarily been consistently prolific. And with the top spot in Group E on the line, both sides will look to ensure they do not concede a goal.

But Marcus Rashford’s impressive form might swing the balance of things. And with English international proving to be a game-changer this season, the Red Devils should manage to eke out a narrow victory. The Hard Tackle predicts Manchester United to clinch a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad at the Reale Arena.

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