Manchester United kick-off this season’s Europa League campaign on Thursday night against Spanish side Real Sociedad, who will travel to Old Trafford with the expectation of giving Erik Ten Hag’s side the sternest test in Group E.
United come bouncing into the games, having swatted aside Arsenal in their most recent outing, taking their winning streak to four as they look to put the disastrous start to the season firmly behind them.
Imanol Alguacil’s Real Sociedad have taken 7 points from a possible 12 at the start of La Liga, with both of their wins coming away from home against Cadiz and Elche, respectively.
Their last outing saw them earn a hard-fought point against Atletico Madrid, with a 4-1 thumping from Barcelona making up their opening results.
Ten Hag is expected to rotate his lineup in the Europa League stages, providing opportunities for players that haven’t featured as much as they’d like this season.
Harry Maguire, Cristiano Ronaldo and Casemiro are three stellar names expected to start On Thursday, reflecting the strength in depth Ten Hag has at his disposal.
Sociedad lost the jewel in its crown late in the transfer window this summer. Sixty million pounds was enough to prize Swedish golden boy Alexander Isak away from the Basque club to the Premier League and Newcastle United.
Umar Sadiq came in as a deadline-day replacement for Isak and got off to a perfect start at the weekend, coming off the bench to nod home an equaliser on his debut for the club – he will be the one to watch.
Should he start, Thursday represents a massive night for Harry Maguire. Maguire will be tasked with looking after the physical threat of Sadiq, who will be looking to take advantage of the fragile confidence the United captain is currently playing with.
Maguire will be desperate for a solid showing; with Rapha Varane and Lisandro Martinez building an excellent understanding at the heart of Ten Hag’s defence, Maguire’s United career is hanging by a thread.
The two teams have recently met in the Europa League.
The round of 32 in the 2020/21 campaign saw United produce a blistering first leg away performance, blowing Sociedad away by four goals to nil with a Bruno Fernandes brace and individual efforts from Marcus Rashford and Dan James doing the damage.
In the return leg, the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford produced fewer fireworks. Still, it will be remembered for Shola Shoretire becoming the youngest player to appear for United in a European game.
Erik Ten Hag will be desperate to get off to a good start in the group, with the view of wrapping qualification up as quickly as possible to save legs in a chaotic pre-World Cup schedule.