Manchester United take the trip to Northern Spain for an evening encounter with Real Sociedad knowing that victory will all but secure progress to the knockout phase of the Champions League.
United go into the game in good form, unbeaten in seven games in all competitions, and have taken points from their opening three games in Group A. Meanwhile, Sociedad lie bottom having lost to Leverkusen, Shakhtar and United but their form has improved since defeat at Old Trafford, taking ten points from their last four in La Liga including a 5-0 victory at the weekend.
An Inigo Martinez own goal was the difference between the two sides a fortnight ago but there was an apparent gulf in class throughout and the Spanish outfit are expected to put in a better account of themselves this time around, with the vibrant San Mames crowd willing them on. The goal for United is clear though – victory virtually guarantees progress to the next round.
David Moyes faces a defensive headache with Jonny Evans and Rafael missing training after being withdrawn at half-time in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Fulham. Phil Jones also seemed to sustain a knock in the contest and could miss out. Michael Carrick misses the trip but Tom Cleverley is in contention after recovering from blurred vision at the weekend.
Jagoba Arrasate’s side warmed up for United’s visit with a 5-0 thumping of ten man Osasuna with Carlos Vela and Antoine Griezmann both withdrawn at the 75 minute mark in a bid to preserve them for a crunch game where a home defeat will eliminate Sociedad from the competition.
United’s record in Spain is very poor having won just twice in 21 attempts on Spanish soil and the Reds’ most recent visit to the country yielded a 1-1 draw against Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu. Moyes opted for a three-man midfield against Shakhtar away so it will be intriguing to see if he persists with a similar system in another European away game.
So far this season, United have played very well in Europe and it has actually been where Moyes’ side has played their best football despite his lack of experience in the competition and it has surprised many how quickly he has adapted to European football.
It is this part of the season where the squad typically comes into play and Moyes may be tempted to shuffle the pack somewhat, with in-form Arsenal visiting Old Trafford on Sunday. That game is could be hugely significant with Arsene Wenger’s side sitting eight points ahead of United at the top of the table, so Robin van Persie may be preserved with that game in mind.
With a potentially season-defining game around the corner and Sociedad keen to give their fans something to take from their first Champions League campaign in years, it will be a tough away game and a draw is a probable result.
However, the prospect of wrapping up qualification quickly must be an enticing one for Moyes’ men.
Prediction: Real Sociedad 1-1 Manchester United
What do you think the score will be against Real Sociedad?