It’s not just the Champions League that makes it’s return this week, the baby brother is back in town too as the Europa League comes back too with the round of 32, including the Champions League drop outs.
One of those drop outs are Manchester United, who fell out of the premier competition following defeats in their final two group stage games to Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig. They fall into the Europa League where they’ll take on Spain’s Real Sociedad, who progressed into this round after coming second behind Napoli in the group stages.
Manchester United currently sit in second place in the Premier League, seven points behind leaders Manchester City having played a game more than their local rivals and level on points with Leicester in third. They’ve scored the most goals in the league this season so far, aided by a 9-0 win over Southampton recently, but have conceded more goals than eight of the other nine teams in the top half.
Sociedad currently sit fifth in the La Liga table, behind the big three and Sevilla having won ten of their 23 games so far this season domestically. Despite an abundance of attacking talent, their goals haven’t flowed massively. They’ve scored 46 goals in 32 games in all competitions but managed only five in their six games in this competition earlier this season.
Their star winger Mikel Oyarzabal has been in tremendous form this season, scoring a team high ten goals so far including five in his last six games. David Silva joined the team in the summer and has taken to the league like a duck to water, as expected, while young attackers Alexander Isak and Adnan Januzaj have continued to shine also.
United will however take encouragement from the fact that Sociedad have only managed to keep six clean sheets in their last 20 games in all competitions, while they themselves have been able to score in 17 of their last 20 fixtures.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may be tempted to rest key players in his squad with a race for top four looking likely now, but he also knows that a trophy would help to justify his position in the role of manager also. Winning the competition is also an extra way to get into the Champions League next season should their domestic form continue to struggle after just two wins from their last seven games in the league.
Even with a rotated squad though, United’s team is strong enough to compete into the latter rounds in this competition. The likes of Anthony Martial, Donny Van de Beek, Mason Greenwood, Nemanja Matic and Eric Bailly are still likely to feature regularly and they would all start regularly for the Sociedad team.
Unless United decide that their interest in this competition is minimal, they should have too much for Sociedad and while the Spaniards will give a good account of themselves, I expect the Reds to qualify with minimal complications.
Real Sociedad 0-1 Manchester United
Manchester United 2-1 Real Sociedad
(Manchester United progress 3-1 on aggregate)