Ah, the famous European nights.
Ask a football fan what they’re most looking forward to in this year’s Champions League edition, and they’ll probably list off a number of magical things that make the competition so special, such as the five-goal thrillers, the spine-tingling anthem, or the inspiring underdog victories.
One thing they will not say, is Manchester United.
Unfortunately, they’ll be playing in the less glamorous Europa League, a competition very often side-eyed by United fans. But for some, the charm of Europe hasn’t completely departed.
Not only may this be one of the only trophies the club can win this year, it may also be the easiest way back into the coveted Champions League next season. But before dreaming of lifting silverware, United must start their road to the final, beginning with a game against Real Sociedad.
Watching these matches may be more of a chore to some fans than something they look forward to, but they may have some excitement in the form of squad rotation to keep them from falling asleep. With many players having played four games in a row, Erik Ten Hag is likely to change the team a little, starting some players that fans could be excited to see back. In his pre-match press conference, he explained, “The team is improving, it’s getting better, but for the players that aren’t in the team, they can come in at any moment.”
A prime example is the best player in the history of football (yes, I know it’s a debate, but that doesn’t sound as good). On Wednesday, it was reported that Cristiano Ronaldo will return to the starting XI, with Erik Ten Hag saying, “He is ready to start.” Summer signing Casemiro is rumoured to play alongside his former Real Madrid teammate.
As well as those two, who have won ten Champions Leagues between them, it looks like Harry Maguire will be back in the team, presumably as captain. Though most are more than happy with the current centre-back partnership, it may be for the best that Raphael Varane is rested due to his recent injury record.
The same report then claims that the new fan-favourite, Antony, and Anthony Elanga, will start too. It would be fitting to say Anthony Martial is playing to complete the trio, but Ten Hag confirmed the Frenchman will miss yet another game through injury.
As for Real Sociedad, their best-known player, former Manchester City midfielder, David Silva, looks likely to start tomorrow night. Despite being 36 years of age, Silva’s creativity remains, which may lead to high-quality chances being created against United. In La Liga, they rank 6th for big chances created, generating 8 so far.
Despite this, the Basque Country side have only scored three goals in their last five matches, missing all 8 of their big chances. This comes after losing their star striker, Alexander Isak, to Newcastle towards the end of the transfer window.
Defensively, they’ve conceded five this season, most of which coming in a 4-1 defeat to Barcelona. Ten Hag’s men may look to equal this score, having put three past Arsenal on the weekend. Whether this happens or not is a different story, as we’ve seen with the unpredictable nature of Manchester United.
Will the players walk off the pitch with the three points, or can David Silva come away with another victory at Old Trafford?