Squali bankruptcy José Mourinho called them and they are waiting for Manchester United.
A first goal from 18-year-old Alejandro Garnacho was enough to beat Real Sociedad but not enough to progress as group winners, so Erik ten Hag’s side will be thrown into a play-off against one of those ‘failed sharks’ of the Champions League : one of Ajax, Barcelona, Juventus, Leverkusen, Salzburg, Sevilla, Shakhtar or Sporting CP must be overcome to continue in this competition.
It might not be that scary but it wasn’t the way United wanted it. Two more games in the spring is not what they wanted either. Garnacho’s stunning strike after a quarter of his second start had briefly given them hope of avoiding it, but United needed another goal.
Although they might have got it when Cristiano Ronaldo ran clean through in the first half only to miss the best chance and while Ten Hag pointed to chances for Bruno Fernandes and Garnacho, they did not force a save from Real Sociedad goalkeeper Álex Remiro.
The excitement of seeing the teenager apart – “I hope Garnacho can keep the attitude he has now: he can create, he can give the last pass and he can score goals so I’m happy with his process,” said Ten Hag – not It really happened for United, with a couple of great passes from Fernandes.
They finished the game with centre-back Harry Maguire up front. The goal was clear; the route there, a little less so.
The good news is that this was still victory and the damage may still be relative. “Of course we’re disappointed not to win by two goals but in the end we won the game, we kept a clean sheet, we create some good chances: there are positives to take back to Manchester,” the manager said afterwards.
Before that, Ten Hag had said: “We know what we have to do in the game: score two goals. In the end they couldn’t. Real Sociedad couldn’t score any goals but they didn’t always play like a team that was content just to protect themselves.”
The opener suggested that Real Sociedad coach Imanol Alguacil’s claim that they would also try to score were not misplaced, Pablo Marin firing the first shot after just 35 seconds and Carlos Fernández hitting the side netting four minutes later. .
Real Sociedad had received three times as many attacks. And yet, it might have suited United, who were incisive when attacking, the space behind both full-backs there to pounce – which is how they got their first goal. Fernandes beat Diego Rico to the head, Ronaldo collected and flicked a perfectly weighted pass left to Garnacho. He got beyond Andoni Gorosabel and hit a superb rising shot over Remiro.
It was his first for the club; the closing confidence said it won’t be the last. It was the trust in the protocol that followed as well. This was a spirited display and he soon received a lovely pass from Fernandes to fire over.
Real Sociedad kept coming but there was a nervousness about them as United stepped out, best expressed when Jon Pacheco swept the ball, with Ronaldo right behind him. All alone, the ball sat up, an invitation he never refuses. But Ronaldo lifted it over Remiro and over the bar, his lob ending up on the roof of the net.
At the other end, Marin impressed, somehow kept out by a double David de Gea stop. The first save from the Spanish goalkeeper was superb; the second, from barely a yard, saw him recover quickly and pounce before Marin’s follow-up, the ball hitting his shoulder.
When Luke Shaw slipped, a poor pass from Robert Navarro wasted a three-on-one. The game was getting tricky now, it felt more and more like the next goal would win it, but there weren’t many clear cut chances.
Alexander Sørloth threatened twice, Navarro was blocked, the shot total reached 15-4, and on came Maguire – at the front. “Yeah, we needed a goal,” said Ten Hag, but they didn’t get it.
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