Fresh from ending Arsenal’s perfect start to the season, Manchester United begin their Europa League campaign in Group E versus Real Sociedad at Old Trafford on Thursday night.
The Red Devils saw off their capital counterparts 3-1 at the weekend, while their Spanish visitors claimed a point from a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid in La Liga.
While £85.4m signing Antony did display some of the flashy footwork that has been the subject of online ridicule against Arsenal, the silky Brazilian also demonstrated his proficiency in front of goal to help the Red Devils continue their winning run at the expense of Arsenal’s.
Antony curled home a delightful debut goal before a threatening Arsenal eventually got their reward through Bukayo Saka, but the Gunners’ defence folded as Marcus Rashford came up with a second-half brace for the rejuvenated Red Devils.
Having now recovered from their abysmal start to competitive proceedings under Erik ten Hag, Man United enter the first matchday of the Europa League having won four on the bounce in the top flight, with both Arsenal and Liverpool falling victim to their superiority at Old Trafford.
Man United will now aim to continue their perfect streak of making it out of the group stage in the Europa League, and they have gone as far as the semi-finals in each of their last three appearances in the second-tier competition, but Villarreal’s penalty prowess won them the title at the expense of the Red Devils in 2021.
Last season’s European adventure also ended abruptly for Man United as they fell to Atletico Madrid in the last-16 of the Champions League, but the Theatre of Dreams faithful will not be expecting Omonia or Sheriff Tiraspol to give their side much trouble later on in Group E.
Keeping up their theme of scoring one and no more than one goal in La Liga games this season, Real Sociedad did not allow Alvaro Morata’s early opener to dampen their spirits against Atletico as they came back to draw 1-1 versus Diego Simeone’s side.
Replacing Newcastle United new boy Alexander Isak with Umar Sadiq – who struck goal after goal for Almeria in the second division last year – paid early dividends as the 25-year-old headed home the equalising goal just 10 minutes after coming off the bench.
Taking seven points from a possible 12 is a far from disastrous way to start the season for Imanol Alguacil’s side, whose pair of wins so far have both come away from home, although they were against Cadiz and Elche rather than 20-time national champions Man United.
The 2022-23 season marks Sociedad’s third successive appearance in the Europa League group stage, and they successfully made it through to the knockout rounds in 2020-21 and 2021-22, but their run ended in the last-32 stage to RB Leipzig last year.
Prior to that 5-4 aggregate defeat to Die Roten Bullen, Alguacil’s men bowed out at the same point to Man United in the 2020-21 tournament, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer led the Red Devils to a 4-0 win at the Allianz Stadium before a second-leg goalless draw at Old Trafford.
Man United did not sustain any serious issues in the win over Arsenal, where Luke Shaw was fit enough to make the bench, but Anthony Martial and Facundo Pellistri remain out alongside Brandon Williams, who has not made the Europa League squad either way.
Donny van de Beek and Aaron Wan-Bissaka will need assessing as the out-of-favour duo try to shake off knocks in time for the contest, and rotation can be expected for the hosts, potentially starting in goal where Martin Dubravka will hope to earn his debut.
The duo of Lisandro Martinez and Marcus Rashford may not be risked following their precautionary withdrawals at the weekend, as the likes of Harry Maguire, Cristiano Ronaldo and Casemiro seek to force their way into the XI.
As for the visitors, French centre-back Robin Le Normand has not made the squad for Thursday’s game due to a stress fracture in his foot, while Diego Rico, Mikel Oyarzabal, Martin Merquelanz and Carlos Fernandez are all unavailable as well. Le Normand’s spot in the heart of defence should be filled by Aritz Elustondo.
Mohamed-Ali Cho and Alexander Sorloth will both be fearing for their places at the tip of the attack following Sadiq’s goal off the bench last time out, while David Silva is expected to occupy the number 10 role upon his return to Manchester.
Manchester United possible starting lineup:
Dubravka; Dalot, Varane, Maguire, Shaw; Casemiro, Fred; Antony, Fernandes, Elanga; Ronaldo
Real Sociedad possible starting lineup:
Remiro; Gorosabel, Zubeldia, Elustondo, Munoz; Mendez, Zubimendi, Merino; Silva; Sadiq, Sorloth