United forced to settle for second in Spain

In front of a hostile San Sebastian crowd, Manchester United were able to secure an impressive 1-0 away win. The result was ultimately in vain though, as The Red Devils were seeking to beat opponents Real Soceidad by two goal. This means that Erik Ten Hag’s men will be forced to play a tricky play-off tie against some potentially giant opponents in order to qualify for the Europa League Round of 16.

The result was not what United needed or wanted. It did however help to show just how far they have come in Ten Hag’s short tenure.

Unfamiliar Line-Up

Erik Ten Hag showed his faith in a number of players when his starting eleven was released. Youngster Alejandro Garnacho was given a second successive European start at left-wing following his impressive full debut vs. Sheriff Tiraspol. He was able to line-up alongside his idol, Cristiano Ronaldo. This link-up proved pivotal for the opening goal.

A right-sided breakaway involving Bruno Fernandes and clever off-the-ball running from Donny van de Beek, playing in only his fifth game of the season, created a gulf of space for Ronaldo and Garnacho to explore and exploit. Ronaldo fed the ball into the path of the young Argentine who took two deft touches and exquisitely finished past La Real’s goalkeeper.

18-year-old Garnacho mimicking the recent celebration of his idol and teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo.

For the remainder of the first half, United looked lively and seemed favourite to grab a second. La Real proved dangerous in their own right, forcing Lisandro Martinez to make some excellent blocks. The Argentinian defender has become an instant hit among fans since his move to Old Trafford.

Martinez’s form under Ten Hag at Ajax and now Manchester United has earned him a World Cup call-up for Argentina.

Second Half of Frustration

Chasing an illustrious second goal to secure top spot, United’s shape changed constantly. First to be substituted was Victor Lindelof, who was replaced by midfielder Scott McTominay. Fans noted that this meant a dramatic change in formation, specifically three-at-the-back.

Chances were scarce and the game was nervy. Neither Real Soceidad nor United knew whether to stick or twist. La Real knew that a goal for them would mean a certain first-place finish, yet conceding a goal would spell disaster. United were in the opposite boat, and it proved to be an intriguing finish.

By the 70th-minute, there was a clear game-plan from La Real. Run down the clock. The crowd played their part, jeering and appealing for any and all calls they could. By the game’s dying embers, Harry Maguire came on to play a target-forward role. It was a desperate ploy for a United side struggling to score, but these were desperate time.

Maguire couldn’t muster a meaningful chance in his cameo in Spain. (Photo by Suara)

A valuable win and a lesson learned

Erik Ten Hag’s side can feel proud of the standalone result, even though it means they must play an extra two games in February. The reverse fixture at Old Trafford in September was rendered completely anomalous by the death of Queen Elizabeth II that day, not to mention an incredulous handball decision that saw United lose 1-0.

In recent times, United have struggled away from home in Europe, especially against Spanish opposition. Ten Hag will see the immense positives in this hard-fought win against a brilliantly-drilled Real Soceidad side. Similarly, the growing confidence of United’s players is becoming readily apparent.

Going into Sunday’s league game vs. Aston Villa, United have kept six clean sheet in their last seven, and are unbeaten in nine in all competitions.

Author: Sam Talbot

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