Manchester United – Real Sociedad (Champions League)
Wednesday the Basques are coming to Old Trafford and this will be a clash full of hope. Manchester United are hoping for a distraction for their worst Premier League start since 1989, and because of the tight spot the United is in La Real is hoping for an opportunity to score.
Manchester United have their place in the Champions history, wining the first title in the 1967/68 edition over Benfica. Then, in 1988/89 Sir Alex Ferguson picked up the trophy for the first time, after defeating Bayern Munich. His second time around happen in the 2007/08 season, where he beat Chelsea 6-5 on penalties. Right now United shares the top of Group A with Shaktar, both with four points. In Matchday one they secured a 4-2 over Leverkusen and on the second round at Shakhtar they allowed the Ukrainian team an equalizer (1-1). Last weekend’s 1-1 to Southampton pushed the domestic campaign to the verge of disaster. To Manchester United, and manager David Moyes, a successful run in Europe was never so imperative. Nenanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverly all sat out Tuesday’s practice. In David Moyes words , the first two “have knocks” and the latter are in “contention”. Does that mean Vidic and Ferdinand will play and we will see about the other two? The backs absence could prove to be a big distress for the United leaky defence. The Manager would have to rely on less experienced, and talented, options such as Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phill Jones. Better not. Wayne Rooney is back to his usual self but unfortunately most of his team-mates seem adrift. The 18 year-old-sensation Adnan Januzaj received praise from Moyes and is expected to start.
Probable lineup: De Gea – Rafael, Jones, Evans, Evra – Carrick, Fellaini – Nani, Rooney, Januzaj – van Persie.
Real Sociedad have not had a Champions League campaign in ten years and they are still to make their first points in the competition. So far they were defeated twice, 0-2 against Shakhtar and 2-1 at the Bay Arena in Leverkusen. To be clear, if the Basques expect to go forward they absolutely need to take something back from their visit to Old Trafford this Wednesday. This is only the second time La Real comes to London and they are certainly praying for a much different outcome. In 1975 Liverpool squashed them 6-0. The team has passed the play-offs with flying colours with a 4-0 aggregate over Lyon. But since then La Real experienced a dip in form going seven matches without a victory. Just until last weekend’s success over Valencia (1-2), a result that positioned them at mid-table in La Liga. This is a squad that is not used to play twice a week and it is weighting heavy on them. Real Sociedad’s fitness hurts from it and injuries happen. Esteban Granero, who was signed to replace Illarramendi, suffered a serious knee ligament injury and was ruled out for most of the season. That’s a major casualty.
Probable lineup: Bravo – Carlos Martìnez, Mikel, Iñigo Martinez, de la Bella – Bergara, Pardo – Vela, Zurutuza, Griezman – Agirretxe.
United and La Real never faced each other. In the forty five matches the Red Devils had against Spanish opposition they won 11, draw 18 and lost 16. But they only won 1 of the last 6 Old Trafford fixtures against La Liga teams. In the 2012 edition of the Champions League they faced Real Madrid, in the round of 16, and were eliminated in a 2-3 aggregate. And then there was that 2011 UEFA Champions League Final defeat with Barcelona. Not pretty. Real Sociedad only once clashed an English team. In 1975 a dominant Liverpool sent them home with a 9-1 aggregate.
Even with all the unease at Old Trafford, if everything goes according to plan United should overcome Real Sociedad. But the truth is they were without playing in Europe for so many years, including 3 seasons in the Segunda Division, so this is a moment for them to enjoy and make the most of it. Are David Moyes’ men up for the challenge?