Manchester United defeated Real Soceidad, 1-0, in the final match of the UEFA Europa League group stage on Thursday at the Reale Arena in San Sebastian, Spain. Erik ten Hag’s side secured a spot in Europa League playoff round, which determines which teams will play in the Round of 16, as they finished in second place in Group E behind their Basque opponent.
Teenager Alejandro Garnacho was the difference maker, smashing his first senior goal into the upper netting in the 17th minute off a perfectly-weighted through ball from his idol, Cristiano Ronaldo, to finish off a well-worked counter attack. The 18-year-old Argentinian winger overtook George Best as Manchester United’s youngest non-English goalscorer in a major European competition, per OptaJoe on Twitter.
Manager Erik ten Hag made three changes to the side that beat West Ham 1-0 last Sunday. Donny van de Beek earned his first start of the ten Hag era—and his first in 11 months—as the No. 10 behind Cristiano Ronaldo in a 4-2-3-1. Victor Lindelöf replaced Harry Maguire alongside Lisandro Martínez at centre back, and Garnacho started on the left wing as Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga were dropped to the bench.
Despite beginning kickoff with the ball, United were on the back foot for the opening 15 minutes as an energetic La Real side enjoyed possession in the attacking third. United looked comfortable inviting the pressure, and a textbook counter attack that lead to Garnacho’s goal opened the game after the Red Devils struck first.
Ronaldo nearly doubled United’s lead with an individual effort that dispossessed centre back Jon Pacheco in the 42nd minute, but his lobbed shot just went over the crossbar and landed on top of the goal.
De Gea was tested with making a huge double save before half time to keep the clean sheet.
Ten Hag made two tactical changed in the 58th minute, replacing van de Beek, who struggled to get into the game, with Marcus Rashford, and brining on Scott McTominay for Lindelöf.
Real Sociedad took it to United in the second half looking to secure first position in the group to avoid the playoff round and receive a bye into the Round of 16.
Martínez was booked for a challenge on Brais Méndez in the 60th minute, meaning the Argentinian will miss United’s next match due to yellow-card accumulation (3).
Fred and Harry Maguire replaced Garnacho and Christian Eriksen in the 82nd minute, which saw Maguire—a centre back—surprisingly play alongside Ronaldo in a front two.
The game truly opened up in the latter stages as United frantically looked for the second goal that would see them take first place in the group and advance into the Round of 16, but the match ended 1-0.
United now have to play in a playoff against one of the UEFA Champions League third-placed teams, meaning the Premier League club could face Ajax, FC Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, RB Salzburg, Sevilla, Shakhtar Dontesk, or Sporting Lisbon. The first round of the playoff will be held on February 16, 2023.
United’s opponent will be determined during the Europa League playoff draw on Monday, November 7 at UEFA’s headquarters in Switzerland. The winner of the playoff round will then be drawn against one of the group-stage winners on February 24 to play in the Round of 16.
Ten Hag’s side take on 16th-place Aston Villa in Premier League action at Villa Park on Sunday.