Wednesday, 24 February 2021

The formality of Sociedad as massive week looms

Manchester United face Real Sociedad tomorrow night but attentions have already turned to Sunday's heavyweight clash in west London. 

You very rarely get a chance to rest players at this stage of the
season as every game is so important and means something. Such is the nature of European competition, you are invariably faced with the best the continent has to offer and most ties often go down to the wire. As United complete the formalities at Old Trafford tomorrow night, this is a rare exception to that rule. Barring the unlikeliest of mathematical miracles, surely even La Real manager Imanol Alguacil will think his side are dead and buried. It would take a huge leap of the imagination and a freak, once-in-a-century comeback to change the course of this tie. 

In all logic and reality, this tie is done, it resembles nothing more than a glorified training game and is a mere footnote ahead of a huge week for the Reds in which we face two top six rivals in the battle for crucial Premier League points and positions. 

The title is gone but United are firmly in the hunt to finish as best of the rest and travel to Stamford Bridge, a ground that has held something of a hoodoo in recent years, for a crunch clash with in-form Chelsea on Sunday. In the second of three successive away games, Solskjaer's side cross the capital to face Crystal Palace in midweek before the small matter of a daunting Manchester derby. Set against this monumental backdrop as we look for a first victory over the so called "big six" this season, the meeting with the La Liga side pales into insignificance. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side lead their Spanish visitors 4-0 and with both feet - surely - already in the hat for the last 16 (a strange expression as the plastic balls always come out of a bowl, never a hat). Therefore, it does indeed give the affable Norwegian the chance to change his entire XI and give some of the younger players an invaluable taste of European experience. 

There have been signs of wear and tear within the United squad, and some players whom undoubtedly could do with a rest. As Sociedad make only their second ever visit to M16, this is a game that provides United with the opportunity to do exactly that. We don't need to go all out and push hell for leather - that job is already done, so this is just a case of going through the motions and playing out proceedings whilst giving several men a well earned breather. 

We should expect to see the likes of Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe, Alex Telles, Ethan Galbraith, Dan James, Juan Mata, Amad Diallo and the latest fresh-faced youngster to step off the Carrington conveyor belt - Shola Shoretire - fresh from his brief Premier League debut against Newcastle last time out.
Galbraith was added to United's 'B' list ahead of the tie, allowing him the possibility of a debut, whilst we're keen to see more of the highly-rated young duo Amad and Shoretire, both of whom have taken age group football by storm. 

Aaron Wan - Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Fred, Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes - basically anyone involved against Thomas Tuchel and co - should be wrapped up in cotton wool and given the night off here. Solskjaer should keep a few of these big guns on the bench, and - the latter three in particular - will only be introduced if absolutely necessary, in case things become hairy and more difficult than expected. 

It's absolutely vital that United maintain a clean bill of health as they prepare for a huge week that will go a long way to defining the outcome of our season. We certainly don't need a full strength side against Sociedad and risk any unnecessary injuries. This competition offers a strong chance of ending the trophy drought, but the spectre of Stamford Bridge and then Manchester City's all-conquering juggernaut will be at the forefront of Reds minds on Thursday night. 

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