Despite their early season struggles in the Premier League, Manchester United enter today’s Champions League encounter against Real Sociedad on top of Group A with seven points after three matches. With road games in Spain today and later in Group A in Germany (Bayer Leverkusen) followed by a home match with Shakhtar Donetsk, United know that collecting four points from these next three fixtures will guarantee their progression to the knockout stage of the European club tournament. The trickiest of their return matches will be against Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk. So it is imperative that Manchester United take maximum points today in the Anoeta Stadium.
In October, United were able to string together positive results as players found their form and returned from injury, while David Moyes became more familiar with his squad. Although their opponents weren’t world beaters, United still finished October undefeated in all competitions. And they started off November the right way by traveling to London and blitzing Fulham by scoring three goals in the opening 22 minutes before easing to a 3-1 win.
Programming note: For viewers in the United States, the match between Real Sociedad and Manchester United is being shown exclusively on FOX Sports 1 and FOX Soccer 2Go at 2:30pm ET.
United have made the best of a relatively easy fixture list. Over the span of seven matches, they have won five and drawn two. Their victories have come over Sunderland, Real Sociedad, Stoke City, Norwich City and Fulham. United’s toughest competition came from Southampton and Shakhtar Donetsk, and the Red Devils were only able to leave those games with draws.
The reigning Premier League champions were hit with injury news following their recent encounter at Fulham. Full-back Rafael da Silva will miss the tie against Real Sociedad after suffering ankle ligament damage this past weekend. Manchester United have arrived in Spain without Danny Welbeck, Michael Carrick, and Jonny Evans. The loss of Rafael and Evans will further hamper United’s defense which, so far this season, has only kept four clean sheets in all competitions.
Chris Smalling may be a replacement for Rafael at right back while Rio Ferdinand is fit and should be in line for a start today. But whether or not David Moyes will risk starting Nemanja Vidic in three consecutive starts is yet to be seen. The Serbian center back played 90 minutes last Tuesday and on Saturday. In the past, United have hesitated to use him in consecutive matches.
Real Sociedad, meanwhile, are bottom of Group A with three losses in three matches. They have been undone by inexperience and poor luck. The Spanish club lost in the dying minutes against Bayern Leverkusen after conceding a late set-piece and fell to defeat at Old Trafford after an own-goal by Inigo Martinez turned out to be the only goal of the contest.
But their recent league form has seen them take ten points in four matches while hitting the back of the net for twelve goals. “La Real” have also won their last two home matches against Almeria and Osasuna by a combined score of 8-0. Over this period, they have scored almost half their goals from set-pieces, which should be troubling news for Manchester United considering the Reds’ lingering defensive issues.
Although their chances of progressing out of Group A are ‘slim’ at best, the Basques could still finish in third place, which would be good enough to place them in the last 32 of the Europa League. With pride and that in mind, the players have promised to make their fans proud when they host United today.
Antoine Griezmann has been in-form scoring six goals in his last four league games, while Xabi Prieto and Carlos Vela are looking stronger as the season moves on. Greizmann issued a rallying cry to his teammates prior to today’s Champions League match: “We are going to make it tough for United. We can beat anyone at Anoeta and we want to give the supporters something to cheer about.”
Manager Jagoba Arrasate added this, “They [United] are the champions. It is the same squad. They have a lot of potential and they are still a great team. But we have played better in our last two games and we can play better than we did at Old Trafford. We have nothing to fear and if we play our cards right, we can give them a scare.”
Real Sociedad’s attack is firing on all cylinders and their confidence is high, while United’s defense are still leaking goals. This points towards the English club having their work cut out for them today.
The news around United has been positive over the past few days as a consequence of their recent results. Management and players are convinced that their early season stumble has been rectified and the Red Devils are ready to push forward in the campaign. But questions will again be raised should they fall in Spain.
United’s remaining European fixtures are daunting and a poor result today would only raise tensions with their supporters. A hard-earned three points in the Anoeta would relieve most of the pressure United faces in Europe, calm the nerves of their supporters, while practically securing their place in the knockout phase of the competition.
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