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Preview: Real Sociedad vs. Manchester United - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa League clash between Real Sociedad and Manchester United, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Having disappointingly dropped down from the Champions League, Manchester United will now aim for a shot at glory in the Europa League, and their first test is a last-32 first-leg clash with Spanish giants Real Sociedad.

This tie will be played in Turin due to coronavirus travel restrictions, and Sociedad head into this game having finished second in Group F behind Napoli.


Match preview

Real Sociedad head coach Imanol Alguacil pictured in December 2020© Reuters

While any outside chances of a La Liga title bid have now dissipated for Sociedad, the Spanish side have finally started to pick up some crucial wins again before a clash of mammoth proportions with Man United.

Victories over Cadiz and Getafe earlier this month marked the first time since November that Imanol Alguacil's side had strung back-to-back wins together, and before their 4-1 triumph over the former on February 7, Sociedad had only won two of their previous 17 across all competitions.

Alexander Isak's ninth goal of the La Liga season was enough to propel Alguacil's men to victory over Getafe at the weekend, but the return of a certain Mikel Oyarzabal grabbed all the headlines, as the winger made a rapid comeback from injury in a massive boost to his side's chances for their clash with Man United.

However, Sociedad's group-stage travails in the Europa League were underwhelming to say the least, as the Spanish side won just two of their six games and drew their last three, but the nine points that they accumulated ended up being enough to seal second spot in Group F - two points behind table-toppers Napoli and one clear of AZ Alkmaar.

Out of the 24 teams who advanced to the knockout stages from the Europa League groups, Sociedad scored the fewest amount of goals - a mere five to their name - but with only four shipped at the other end of the pitch, United's attackers cannot afford to leave their shooting boots at home this week.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pictured in February 2021© Reuters

A good chunk of Man United fans may very well hold Mino Raiola accountable for their Champions League exit, as the super agent claimed that Paul Pogba's future at Old Trafford was over just hours before their crunch match with RB Leipzig, which ultimately extinguished their Champions League hopes for another season.

A 3-2 defeat at the home of the German powerhouses followed previous losses to Istanbul Basaksehir and Paris Saint-Germain, with United's record of three wins and three defeats not enough to see them pip either PSG or Leipzig - who both finished three points clear of the Red Devils - to one of the top two spots in Group H.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side immediately embarked on an impressive unbeaten run in the Premier League following their Champions League exit, but they have struggled to assert themselves as a dominant force in recent weeks and have won just two of their last six in all competitions, as well as one in five in the Premier League.

Bruno Fernandes's 14th Premier League goal of the season at West Bromwich Albion was as spectacular as we have become accustomed to seeing from him, but the individual brilliance of the Portuguese playmaker can only take Man United so far and the Baggies held on for a point after Mbaye Diagne's early opener.

Should the Red Devils start firing on all cylinders again, they will undoubtedly be tipped for glory in Europe's secondary competition, and Real Sociedad lost 1-0 at Old Trafford before holding United to a 0-0 draw at home in the 2013-14 Champions League group stages.

Real Sociedad Europa League form: WLWDDD
Real Sociedad form (all competitions): WDLDWW

Manchester United form (all competitions): LDWDWD


Team News

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba pictured on February 6, 2021© Reuters

As mentioned, Oyarzabal returned from injury to play 79 minutes in Sunday's win at Getafe, and the highly-rated 23-year-old should line up on the left-hand side once again here.

The Red Devils will likely be coming up against a familiar face on the opposite flank in the form of Adnan Januzaj, but he is yet to open his Europa League account for the campaign and could find his spot under threat from Portu.

Luca Sangalli and Miguel Angel Moya remain injured for the 'home' side, who could also opt to bring Robin Le Normand back into the heart of defence.

Man United's Pogba continues to recuperate following a hamstring injury, and the Frenchman has now been ruled out for the rest of the month, while Edinson Cavani and Donny van de Beek will not make the cut either.

Changes would not go amiss for the visitors amid their below-par form of late, with Mason Greenwood - who recently extended his stay with the club until 2025 - potentially featuring on the flanks.

Dean Henderson was only given a chance in one of United's Champions League matches - their 2-1 defeat at Basaksehir - but he has a chance of featuring this week, while Alex Telles could be brought in given his wealth of experience on the continental stage.

Real Sociedad possible starting lineup:
Remiro; Gorosabel, Le Normand, Elustondo, Monreal; Zubeldia, Merino, Silva; Januzaj, Isak, Oyarzabal

Manchester United possible starting lineup:
Henderson; Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Bailly, Telles; Fred, McTominay; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial


SM words green background

We say: Real Sociedad 2-2 Manchester United

Not only have Sociedad finally returned to winning ways, but the quicker-than-expected return of Oyarzabal will have the hosts brimming with confidence ahead of this tie. The away goals rule is still in play despite the use of a neutral venue, so United may opt to employ a gung-ho approach to give themselves the best chance possible of advancing, but we expect Sociedad to take advantage of the Red Devils' frailties and salvage a draw in the first leg.


Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting over 1.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Over 1.5:data


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Adnan Januzaj pictured on March 4, 2020
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TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
CManchester CityMan City38275683325186
2Manchester UnitedMan Utd382111673442974
3Liverpool38209968422669
4Chelsea381910958362267
5Leicester CityLeicester382061268501866
6West Ham UnitedWest Ham381981162471565
7Tottenham HotspurSpurs381881268452362
8Arsenal381871355391661
9Leeds UnitedLeeds38185156254859
10Everton38178134748-159
11Aston Villa38167155546955
12Newcastle UnitedNewcastle38129174662-1645
13Wolverhampton WanderersWolves38129173652-1645
14Crystal Palace38128184166-2544
15Southampton38127194768-2143
16Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton38914154046-641
17Burnley38109193355-2239
RFulham38513202753-2628
RWest Bromwich AlbionWest Brom38511223576-4126
RSheffield UnitedSheff Utd3872292063-4323

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