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Starting XI: Real Sociedad vs. Manchester United

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Playing the away leg in Turin is the closest we’re getting to Champions League action

Manchester United Depart for Turin for the Europa League Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Everything that you need to know ahead of Thursday’s match:

(1) Manchester United return to European competition for its first leg matchup against La Liga's fifth-place side, Real Sociedad. Because of travel restrictions related to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic — why are we playing European matches again? Oh, I digress — United and Sociedad will play at Juventus’ stadium in Turin, Italy.

(2) The Reds fumbled the bag big time this past weekend as they allowed Big Sam’s Baggies to score in the opening 90 seconds and pack up shop. To save a point, Bruno Fernandes had to score a world-class volley that cannot be counted on each and every match. Outside Fernandes’ goal, United did little to shake the West Brom defense and deservedly walked out of The Hawthorns facing old criticisms related to breaking down lesser sides.

(3) Must-read material in the lead-up to the match: staff writer Pauly Kwestel’s newest tactical analysis focuses on United’s forwards and what they need to do to handle the low-block defenses presented by opponents like West Bromwich.

(4) Which vibes will affect United? The Reds have a rough record against Spanish teams since 2017 with zero wins, three draws, and six losses. However, the last time United were in Allianz Stadium, this happened:

What a bastard, Mourinho was.

(5) Real Sociedad aren’t exactly in world-beating form since the beginning of the new year. La Real only have three wins to their name in their last nine including a 3-1 crash out of the Copa del Rey at the hands of Real Betis. So, probably start mentally preparing for them to play the match of their lives against United.

(6) Sociedad finished second in their group behind Napoli. The Spanish side only picked up two wins along with three draws on its way to the knockout stages. More concerning for them was the five goals scored to four goals conceded ratio. In La Liga, Sociedad is faring slightly better in the goal difference department, but if United can shut down Mikel Oyarzabal, the “hosts” could have a difficult time finding the back of the net — there I go again jinxing United.

(7) Of course, the match against Real Sociedad presents United with an opportunity for a reunion with former Red, Adnan Januzaj. The Belgian winger spoke on his feelings towards United with the match looming.

(8) Will we see any of the anticipated debuts from United’s current crop of promising youngsters? With Paul Pogba’s injury already known along with Donny van de Beek and Edinson Cavani listed as late scratches to the traveling list, the group traveling to Italy is De Gea, Henderson, Grant; Bailly, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, Telles, Tuanzebe, Wan-Bissaka, Williams; Amad, Fernandes, Fred, James, Mata, Matic, McTominay, Shoretire; Greenwood, Martial, Rashford.

(9) GUESS WHO’S BACK! We at The Busby Babe were getting fitted for our Sherlock Holmes caps as we wondered where the hell Juan Mata was since the turn of the year.

Clearly feeling the pressure from our investigative efforts and my incredible Photoshop skills, United’s PR machine quickly rushed to the archives to find some Mata at training photos and provided an update.

Do we have a Weekend at Bernie’s situation happening with El Mago? Only time will tell. Lord knows United could use a steady presence in the midfield as it tries to rediscover its form sans Pogba.

(10) Can we hold some? Shout outs to Mason Greenwood on his recent contract extension with the club. The young forward is committed to the club until 2025 and will continue to develop behind the likes of Rashford and Cavani (maybe Martial?). Let’s all just make sure the lad doesn’t hang out with that bad influence Phil Foden anymore.

(11) Don’t forget to listen to the newest episode of The Busby Babe podcast. Colin, Pauly, and I sat down to discuss — more long-windedly — a lot of the things you’ve already read here. You can also experience in real-time how long it took me to make that Mata meme during one of Pauly’s trademark soliloquies.