Man Utd face Europa League nightmare draw if they fail Sociedad test
Inside Man Utd's preparations for Real Sociedad away day
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Despite Manchester United and Real Sociedad both qualifying for the knockout stages of the Europa League, their clash on Thursday night holds significant importance. With the top spot in Group E still up for grabs, both sides could put themselves in a favourable position when their next opponents are drawn.
Sociedad are currently top of the group and are yet to taste defeat in the competition, winning all five of their matches. The Spanish side beat United 1-0 the last time the two teams met and replicating, or bettering, that result would see them retain their group position.
If Erik ten Hag’s troops are to finish top of the group, then they must beat Sociedad by two goals or more, which could prove a tricky task. If not, then they will face the teams who finished third in their Champions League groups.
Whoever they face will prove to be their trickiest task yet on the European stage, with several top clubs dropping into the competition that will feel that they have a very good chance of going all the way and lifting the trophy in Budapest in May.
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Ten Hag’s former team Ajax finished third in Group A and will be looking to recapture their form in the Europa League and their players could be licking their lips at the prospect of getting one up on their previous boss. Bayer Leverkusen also will be in the hat, sneaking into the competition after finishing level on points with Atletico Madrid.
Another top club that will feel they could go all the way is Barcelona, with Xavi signing several stars over the summer who will have arrived with the expectation of lifting some form of silverware at the end of the season. Group D third-placers Sporting could also be United’s next opponents.
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If Ten Hag’s side fails to get the necessary winning margin against Sociedad then they could be hopeful of taking on those who dropped out of Group E, F and G: Red Bull Salzburg, Shakhtar Donetsk and Sevilla. Although three credible opponents, some may feel that they would not have looked out of place in the Europa League originally.
Group H’s Juventus will also be a potential opponent for United or Sociedad, though their Serie A form leaves plenty to be desired and manager Massimiliano Allegri is coming under serious pressure from supporters underwhelmed by the team. It remains to be seen how Ten Hag’s side fare at the Reale Arena and whether they will be able to give themselves a simpler task in the knockouts.
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