Manchester United have made a disappointing start to the post-Fergie era, languishing in 8th place in the Premier League with just 11 points.
Their Champions League campaign has got off to a somewhat better start, but a goal from Brazilian forward Taison robbed them of two wins from two as they were held by Shakhtar Donetsk.
They are, however, top of the group, and have the opportunity to steal another win at home to pointless Real Sociedad.
The La Liga side's first season in the competition for ten years hasn’t gone according to plan so far, with two defeats leaving them propping up the rest of Group A. Their first run out in Europe’s top competition for a decade has been a baptism of fire; despite a fair share of the ball and attempts on goal, the boys from the Basque were beaten courtesy of an Alex Texeira brace for Shakhtar Donetsk and a stoppage time heartbreaker against Bayer Leverkusen to leave them on no points with two games gone.
As said before, it’s a case of top versus bottom in Group A, and Manchester United will be fully aware of Shakhtar chasing their tails. Sociedad need to at least take a point if they’re to finish anywhere other than bottom, but the group is competitive and it will be difficult to put pressure on the top two.
With their league form poor, Manchester United need to finish convincingly in first here, but, with Shakhtar and Leverkusen close behind, it won’t be an easy feat.
Both sides need the win, and so we should expect a competitive match. Real Sociedad would relish victory at Old Trafford, and it could be the incentive they need to go on and at least claim a Europa League spot, while United need more surety at the top of the group.
Esteban Granero’s absence for the Spanish side will be a serious blow, but Sociedad have shown that they’re willing to have a go and can put the pressure on; United aren’t full of confidence now, and it may be the right time to go and get three points for Sociedad.
United do have the advantage of experience in their ranks, something Sociedad are lacking. They’re an ever present force in the Champions League, and so have a squad of players who are used to the competition. They also have two strikers with proven pedigree in Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, so Sociedad will have to be mindful of those two if they want to keep the Red Devils out.
Sociedad don’t have many experienced players at Champions League level but, like most teams, they have their danger men. Their major threat is French winger Antoine Griezmann, a gifted youth product who has been attracting the attention of the major clubs with his performances.
His pacey dribbling down the left flank makes him the main source of chances for the Spanish outfit, but he also chips in with goals himself from time to time; he’s got that creative spark, and United will need to watch him as Sociedad look to hit them on the counter.
The main source of goals, however, is a name familiar to United fans. Carlos Vela has thrived since he swapped north London for Spain, initially scoring 12 goals whilst on loan and then netting 16 the season after following a permanent transfer.
He’s the club’s top striker and would love the chance to grab a goal at Old Trafford, so he needs to be kept quiet.
Sociedad are captained on the pitch by right winger Xabi Prieto, another youth product with over 300 games for the club.
The 30 year-old playmaker was injured for the side’s defeat to Leverkusen but will be determined to return for the trip to Old Trafford. He also provides a goal threat; he scored a hat-trick against none other than Real Madrid only last season, so United will be wary of the former Spain U21 international.
On paper, this has a Manchester United win written all over it but it’s not so black and white. United are lacking confidence, and it appears teams no longer fear travelling to Old Trafford.
Sociedad need to pick up points somewhere if they’re going to challenge in this group, so why not start against United? They have a few tricky players who can cause problems and they’ll go out there looking to put the pressure on and score.
Manchester United should have enough to beat them, but it won’t be easy and Sociedad will put up one hell of a fight.
Prediction: Manchester United 3-1 Real Sociedad
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