On Thursday night, Real Sociedad and Manchester United will compete for the top position in Europa League Group E at the Anoeta Stadium.
Imanol Alguacil’s team leads the Red Devils by three points and just has to avoid loss on their home turf to send the visitors to a knockout round playoff tie.
Perfection has been the theme for Real Sociedad in the Europa League this term, but the same cannot be said for their recent La Liga endeavours, as Alguacil’s men seek to recover from back-to-back domestic defeats to ensure a last 16 place in Europe’s secondary tournament.
Sociedad head into the final matchday as the only team in the 2022-23 Europe League to have won all five of their group matches so far, the most recent of which came in a 2-0 win over Omonia last week courtesy of strikes from Robert Navarro and Brais Mendez.
A tally of 10 goals does not place the La Liga outfit among the most prolific of teams in the Europa League, but they have conceded just one goal in the entire tournament so far – unsurprisingly the best defensive record in the competition and one that will be tested to the limit on Thursday night.
In order to progress to the knockout stages as group winners, Sociedad simply need to avoid defeat by more than one goal against Man United, but their momentum in La Liga has taken a hit with successive losses to Real Valladolid and Real Betis without a goal in recent weeks.
Sociedad’s recent dip in form has coincided with a packed treatment room, as Mikel Oyarzabal, Umar Sadiq, Mohamed-Ali Cho, David Silva and Ander Martin are all guaranteed absences for the contest with Man United.
Takefusa Kubo dislocated his shoulder in the win over Omonia last week and is one of a few doubts alongside Ander Barrenetxea, Aihen Munoz and Alex Sola, so Alguacil is not exactly blessed with options for rotation this week.
Alexander Sorloth is sure to lead the line for an injury-hit Sociedad, and Alguacil can still bring fresh legs into the XI in the forms of Igor Zubeldia and Ander Guevara.
Man United’s medical bay is still brimming with occupants too, as Raphael Varane, Axel Tuanzebe and Brandon Williams remain sidelined, while Antony (knock), Anthony Martial (back) and Jadon Sancho (illness) are all absent here as well.
On a brighter note, Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are both part of the squad after overcoming their own problems, and Anthony Elanga should take advantage of the visitors’ attacking absences to start out wide again.
Ten Hag opted to hand Alejandro Garnacho his full debut in the win over Sheriff Tiraspol, but the importance of Thursday’s contest should see Rashford occupy the left-hand side, with Ronaldo in line to spearhead the charge against familiar opposition.
Possible starting lineup:
|Remiro, Alex||De Gea, David|
|Elustondo, Aritz||Dalot, Diogo|
|Pacheco, Jon||Martinez, Lisandro|
|Gorosabel, Andoni||Shaw, Luke|
|Munoz, Aihen||Malacia, Tyrell|
|Mendez, Brais||Fernandes, Bruno|
|Merino, Mikel||Eriksen, Christian|
|Silva, David||Sancho, Jadon|
|Sorloth, Alexander||Ronaldo, Cristiano|
Sociedad = 43.3%
Draw = 21.2%
Man Utd = 35.5%
Sociedad 2-1 Man Utd
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