Manchester United began their Europa League campaign with a convincing 4-0 victory against Real Sociedad in the round 32 first leg. The result should all but secure our passage into the next round of the competition given we have a commanding lead and those four away goals. The game had been relocated to Italy but it did not seem to affect United’s performance.
We put in a good performance as our pace really helped us open up this Sociedad team. United made some great runs and counter-attacking moves. It was thanks to goals from Bruno Fernandes (who scored twice), Marcus Rashford, and Daniel James that settled the tie. It means that Ole could afford to rest some of the players for the return leg at Old Trafford.
Here is a look at five things we learned from the game.
1. Fernandes delivers yet again
The first goal from Bruno meant he had scored 20 goals in all competitions this season. He broke the deadlock after Rashford chipped the ball through to Fernandes. The Portuguese midfielder saw the Sociedad defenders and goalkeeper coming together before picking up the ball to slot it home. Bruno frequently shows his creativity but it was his cleverness in anticipating what was going to happen that stood out.
He also created chances for both Rashford and McTominay who were unable to seize their opportunities. Fernandes then doubled our lead through a great counter-attacking move that saw him dummying the ball as it reached James who laid it off before he slotted it into the corner of the net.
2. United look better defensively
Despite the early mishap in our defensive where Bailly gave the ball away which lead to the Real Sociedad counter. He was starting his first game for over a month and so he can be forgiven for a bit of match rustiness. After that, the defence stepped up, and having pace within it helped us.
Bailly was great at snuffing crosses from coming in and was alert to the danger when Dean Henderson was impeded and cleared the ball off the line. He also assisted in the fourth goal as his pass was picked up by Daniel James, who ran at the opposition defence before slotting the ball into the net. The Ivorian also found time to attempt an audacious overhead kick from an Alex Telles corner. Never change, Eric.
3. Rashford’s goal should give him confidence
Marcus Rashford deserves praise as it was his pass into the Real Sociedad six-yard box that resulted in the opposition defenders and goalkeeper coming together. From then, Bruno Fernandes was allowed to tap the ball into the net. He had his own opportunities to score but failed to capitalise. His first chance was just after the two minutes when his close range shot was saved by their goalkeeper. He then had a few more chances but was unable to score.
Rashford did not let his missed opportunities get him down as he put in a shift and was rewarded with a goal, thanks to Fred’s through ball. It is now 17 goals in all competitions for the United forward. However, this was his third goal in the last ten games. Hopefully getting on the scoresheet will give his confidence a boost and he can now hit a good run of form.
4. Diallo makes his first team debut
As United went 3-0 up against Real Sociedad, Ole Gunnar Solskjær decided to give a first team debut to the new signing Amad Diallo. We will be hoping this will be the first of many appearances for the club. He completed 3 out of 3 dribbles in the 12 minutes he had on the pitch, there was no forward that completed more. He may see some game time in the second leg as we have the four goal advantage over the opposition.
5. Qualification looks all but secured
When the draw was made for the Europa League round of 32, it looked like Real Sociedad would prove tough opposition for United. We have to give praise to the Red Devils as they came away with a substantial lead in the first leg given the game had to be played at a neutral venue. The second leg at Old Trafford next week should be a formality and Ole may rest a few key players. There will be opportunities for those who haven’t played recently to get some game time.
There was some rotation in the first leg as both Bailly and James came into the side. United had put out a strong side that showed intent. The Europa League represents a trophy at the end of it and we will be looking to go all the way.