Manchester United face a daunting two-legged Europa League play-off to reach the Europa League last 16 after beating Real Sociedad 1-0 at the Reale Stadium on Thursday. The Red Devils needed to win by a two-goal margin to top Group E but failed to do so and must now face one of the Champions League’s third-place sides in the next round.
Alejandro Garnacho fired United ahead in the first half, but La Real’s resolute defence remained unbeaten for the remainder of the game. The outcome was made all the more sickening for Erik ten Hag after Lisandro Martinez’s was controversially booked, meaning he will miss the first leg of the upcoming play-off.
Express Sport analyses the key talking points from United’s triumph over La Real, with Ten Hag’s side securely through to the Europa League round-of-16…
Ronaldo’s new chant
On Thursday, videos emerged on social media showing United fans in San Sebastian singing a new chant about Ronaldo. However, in a contrast to the ilk of hymns aimed at the 37-year-old throughout his Red Devils career, supporters have creatively had a dig at his desire to leave the club.
Those on the Spanish streets were filmed singing: “I don’t care about Ronny, Ronny don’t care about me… all I care about is MUFC.” And the same chant made its way into the Reale Stadium as the two teams were warming up ahead of kick-off, according to a journalist present.
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Garnacho opens his United account
Garnacho’s inclusion in Ten Hag’s starting line-up created a buzz among fans after his eye-catching display against Sheriff Tiraspol last week. He repaid the faith in the 17th minute by scoring his first competitive goal for United, running onto Ronaldo’s through ball before darting into the box and lashing his effort into the roof of the net.
The 18-year-old has been training with Ten Hag’s first team full-time this season, and now that minutes are coming his way, he’s taking his opportunities with aplomb. His prospects of game time will slim down once Antony, Anthony Martial, and Jadon Sancho return to contention, but he’s wasted no time in showcasing just how big a prospect he is.
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Martinez’s controversial ban
Martinez continued his common theme of producing solid performances at the back, but Bulgarian referee Georgi Kabakov put a dampener on his night. After putting in what replays showed was a fair, crunching tackle, Kabakov controversially booked the Argentine after he got up from receiving treatment.
Martinez is Ten Hag’s first-choice centre-back at Old Trafford after his £57million switch from Ajax in the summer, but the United boss will have to go without him in United’s next Europa League game. After accumulating three yellow cards in the group stage, he must serve a one-game suspension.
Harry Maguire played WHERE?
Seeing that Harry Maguire had come on for United in the 84th minute, you’d think the visitors were hanging onto a two-goal lead for dear life. But no, Ten Hag threw up his latest tactical curveball by replacing Garnacho with the centre-back and lumping him up front alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ten Hag’s vision didn’t produce fruit, though, as Maguire failed to make an attacking impact and La Real held firm to keep the score at 1-0. United must now face Ajax, Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk, RB Salzburg or Sporting CP to progress to the last 16.
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