Manchester United were on a mission as the team travelled to Spain to clash against Real Sociedad.
United needed to win by a two-goal margin to finish top of the group ahead of Sociedad in an effort to avoid a horror draw in the next round of the Europa League.
Ten Hag fielded a relatively strong starting XI. Alejandro Garnacho started his second game in a row in the competition, on the left flank of the attack that also consisted of Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes on the right.
The surprise inclusion was Donny van de Beek who slotted into the number 10 position in front of Christian Eriksen and Casemiro.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 1-0 win vs Real Sociedad.
Mixed first half
United’s opening 45 minutes was a mixed bag – a stark contrast to recent games where the side has obliterated teams with their dominance both on and off the ball.
In the opening 15-20 minutes, the Spanish opposition was clearly the better side, as United found it difficult to pass their away around the press.
To highlight United’s struggles in sections of the game, Teb Hag’s men went into the break with less possession compared to Sociedad – 48% to Sociedad’s slightly higher 52%.
Sociedad also had more shots at goal. They registered five, three being on target. United on the hand mustered three shots, with only one being on target.
The Erreala created a few fair chances in the early stages of the game and even forced David de Gea into a save – something the Spaniard was equal to.
United found it hard at times to deal with Sociedad’s physicality, but soon settled into the game and made their presence known.
The Reds did well to weather the early storm and got their reward in the 17th minute when Ronaldo set Garnacho on his way with a brilliant pass. The Argentine youngster made no mistake, rifling the ball beyond the reach of the Sociedad goalkeeper who simply had no chance.
While the manager would have been pleased with the all-precious lead when the half-time whistle went, he would not have been amused that his players at times allowed Sociedad a way into the game.
Garnacho is steadily claiming a regular starting berth in the team
Garnacho beyond his goal in the first half proved to be a constant thorn in the backside of Sociedad’s defence.
The Liga team found it extremely hard to contend with his rapid pace and tricky feet on the left flank, and he was by far United’s most threatening player in the game.
The 19-year-old barely looked out of place in a side full of global superstars and it’s a big credit to him that he stood head and shoulders above most of them.
Even defensively, the academy youngster was immense. He got back to execute his defensive responsibilities when required and lent a helping hand to Luke Shaw whenever the Englishman needed it.
With the 20-time English champions currently going through an injury crisis in the attacking department with Antony, Anthony Martial and Jadon Sancho unable to feature tonight and possibly against Villa, Garnacho has a legitimate opportunity to cement his place in the team.
With Rashford mostly being deployed as a striker and with Sancho in terribly poor form, Garnacho’s dazzling displays can provide him with a path to the big time.
It speaks volumes that the manager trusted the player in such a high-stakes game as tonight, which was a must-win. It shows that he can be trusted to play against the big boys in the Premier League and hold his own.
The winger provides a refreshing dimension to United’s attacking phases with his propensity to always take his man on and beat defenders. He excels at this to great effect.
Most fans will agree that Garnacho is ready to become a regular feature in Ten Hag’s team, even in the Premier League. At the moment, he is knocking at the door!
Van de Beek incredibly underwhelming
Many fans were excited by the prospect of seeing Van de Beek start a game after the player was sidelined with an injury for so long.
However, saying the Dutchman was underwhelming is an understatement.
Van de Beek failed to stamp his authority onto the game in his favoured playmaking role. It was therefore no surprise when he was the first to come off in place of Rashford.
At times, the 24-year-old looked to be lost and out of the game. Even his off-the-ball moments that he is famously known for were lacking against Sociedad.
Forty minutes in and Van de Beek has so far been in No Man's Land. Hasn't had any chemistry with any of the forwards and barely been on the ball. #mufc's overall performance has been accomplished up to this point.
— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) November 3, 2022
Not to be too harsh on Van de Beek however, it is possible that he may still be rusty from such a lengthy spell out of action and he needs to put together a string of games to get going.