Manchester United take on Real Sociedad today in a game that could see the former qualify for the Europa League knockouts with a good result.
With the Red Devils set to start a strong side against a fairly depleted Sociedad, United are expected to win, despite their poor track record on Spanish soil.
Erik ten Hag’s men will line up in a 4-2-3-1 against the La Liga side’s 4-3-1-2, which will lead to obvious space on the flanks.
United have the pace to exploit wide areas in transitions, while Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw will have important roles in creating 2v1s against Sociedad’s fullbacks in settled possession.
The Red Devils will have a numerical disadvantage in moving the ball through the midfield, although the fullbacks could play an important role in this area too.
Dalot, in particular, has taken very well to an underlapping role under Ten Hag, and doing so here will allow him to support United’s midfield trio against the four men of Sociedad.
This would give Man United more solutions in progressing the ball up the pitch, with various avenues of attack available to them.
Defensively, Ten Hag’s men must watch out for Sociedad’s quick short passing moves.
They tend to build up through the thirds, keeping their midfield diamond narrow in order to facilitate speedy ‘rondo’ style passing manoeuvres.
Carlos Fernandes and Alexander Sorloth up front always provide the potential for a direct pass to switch up this pattern, with both being physically imposing strikers, but generally Sociedad prefer to play it short and through where possible.
A common pattern to watch out for with the La Liga side’s midfield is a shift from a diamond shape into more of a box as they work they ball up the pitch.
With Brais Mendez more of a ‘half winger’ than a true midfielder, he often ends up higher up the pitch, with Mikel Merino on the opposite side of the diamond dropping to form a double pivot with Martin Zubimendi.
This shift at times has Sociedad playing more of a 4-2-2-2 than a 4-3-1-2, which can affect how much attacking pressure United’s defensive midfielders need to deal with.
In terms of how to attack them however, the difference is minimal. In either case, United’s pace on the flanks will make counter attacks deadly against the Spanish side’s narrow shape.
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