Manchester United will compete in the knockout play-off round of the Europa League despite winning at Real Sociedad on Thursday night.
Chasing a two-goal win to usurp the La Liga side at the top of Group E, Alejandro Garnacho gave the Red Devils the quick start they needed and his first ever senior club goal by finishing off Cristiano Ronaldo’s pass.
A 1-0 loss would have kept Sociedad top but they still pushed on for an equaliser themselves, making for a fascinating final 20 minutes, though the scoreline remained unchanged at full time.
The hosts showed their attacking teeth early on as Mikel Merino fired into the side netting from an offside position, with United struggling to push up the field during the opening tussles.
Garnacho gave Sociedad an early sighter of his abilities with a mazy run before cutting inside and overhitting the cross, but he was much more assured when he was sent through in the 17th minute.
Ronaldo stretched to bring Bruno Fernandes’ header down and play in the Argentine, who fired in high for the opener to fuel United’s hopes of the two-goal win they needed to reach the last 16 and avoid the play-offs.
Garnacho again went close when latching onto a ball from Fernandes, but he lost his footing when taking the shot and sliced the ball well wide.
Sociedad looked threatening on the counter, breaking quickly as Alexander Sorloth found Pablo Marin on the edge of the box, but a deflected strike trickled tamely towards David de Gea.
Ronaldo chased a long ball and beat defender Jon Pacheco to go through on goal, though he was forced to go for the lob with goalkeeper Alex Remiro closing him down. The effort struck the roof of the net.
A wonderful double save from De Gea was needed to preserve United’s lead going into the break, the Spaniard excellently denying Andoni Gorosabel before Marin’s follow up struck his head and bounced over.
The second half was frantic in nature as Sociedad attempted to puncture United whenever they chased the crucial second goal. Brais Mendez enjoyed a few battles with Luke Shaw out wide, while Robert Navarro overhit a pass to Carlos Fernandez which would have put the striker in on goal.
Solid blocks from Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw were needed as the game approached the final ten minutes. United applied the pressure in second-half injury time, but no solid chances presented themselves.
The win means United finish below Sociedad on goal difference and must negotiate a knockout play-off tie against one of the third-placed Champions League sides.
Real Sociedad player ratings (4-4-2)
GK: Alex Remiro (6); RB: Andoni Gorosabel (6.5), CB: Robin Le Normand (6.5), CB: Jon Pacheco (7), LB: Diego Rico (7.5); RM: Pablo Marin (6.5), CM: Martin Zubimendi (6.5), CM: Mikel Merino (7), LM: Brais Mendez (7); ST: Alexander Sorloth (6), ST: Carlos Fernandez (6)
SUB: Robert Navarro (5), Aritz Elustondo (5), Ander Guevara (5), Igor Zubeldia (N/A), Jon Magunacelaya (N/A)
Manchester United player ratings (4-3-1-2)
GK: David de Gea – 7/10 – Great double stop on the cusp of half time to deny Gorosabel and Marin. Produced some important sprawling stops in the second half too.
RB: Diogo Dalot – 7/10 – Kept things tight on his side while offering a decent threat on the right. Got booked as his frustrations boiled over late on.
CB: Victor Lindelof – 7/10 – Really dominant in the air and didn’t misplace a pass before making way early in the second half.
CB: Lisandro Martinez – 7/10 – Proactive and quick to snuff out danger. Made a few vital blocks but also got booked – he will miss United’s next game in Europe.
LB: Luke Shaw – 7/10 – One awkward slip gave Sociedad a two-on-one which they scuppered, sparing Shaw’s blushes. Recovered the ball frequently and bought a few fouls.
CM: Donny van de Beek – 4/10 – A surprise start for the Dutchman. Could never get involved as much as he would have liked and made little impact.
CM: Casemiro – 7/10 – Continually broke up Sociedad’s attacks with tackles and interceptions.
CM: Christian Eriksen – 5/10 – Not his most overtly influential game. No key passes and lost the ball three times before coming off.
AM: Bruno Fernandes – 7/10 – Some nice aware touches to set up his teammates. Surprisingly shot-shy, not getting any attempts off on goal.
ST: Cristiano Ronaldo – 7/10 – Fed Garnacho to rifle in the opener. Would have been disappointed to see his lob go just over. No telling moment came in the second half for Ronaldo to send United into the last 16 like he would have liked.
ST: Alejandro Garnacho – 7/10 – Wonderful confidence in his dribbling and finished brilliantly for the opener.
SUB: Marcus Rashford (58′ for Van de Beek) – 5/10 – Not as many opportunities to stretch his legs.
SUB: Scott McTominay (58′ for Lindelof) – 5/10 – A few loose moments in possession.
SUB: Fred (82′ for Eriksen) – 6/10 – Added energy to United’s midfield late on.
SUB: Harry Maguire (82′ for Garnacho) – 5/10 – Stuck up front late on as an auxiliary striker. Won a few headers.
Manager: Erik ten Hag – 7/10 – To get earn victory at La Liga’s fifth-best side is a good effort from United and Ten Hag, but requiring an extra game will not be received well. However, they held off large amounts of pressure well and were unlucky not to get the win they needed.