Drab Draw Sees Manchester United Through In Europa League
A drab 0-0 draw at home to Real Sociedad has seen Manchester United safely through to the Round of 16 in the Europa League.
Mikel Oyarzabal missed a penalty for the visitors in the 13th minute, while Bruno Fernandes hit the crossbar and Axel Tuanzebe had a clear goal ruled out after the referee checked the pitchside monitor and decided Victor Lindelof had committed a foul.
While the match lacked the usual spark of a big European night at Old Trafford, United will be happy to have progressed, while Real Sociedad go home with their pride intact after putting in a better performance than the 4-0 mauling they received in the first leg.
For manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the night was all about progressing to the next round.
“We played against a very good team and the start of the game showed why it was important [to pick a strong team]. You don’t want to go into half-time one or two down. I felt the first 10 or 15 minutes were slow and then we played some very good stuff. I think it shows how good the performance was last week.”
“We want to go further [in the Europa League]. When you have failed in four semifinals, you want to improve.”
“We wanted to score goals. Our goal can be discussed. It’s a foul against Victor [Lindelof] but I don’t know if it’s actually influenced the actual goal. I don’t know about the ins and outs of that one. We’re through and that’s it. It’s a good workout for a few of course, so we should be pleased because they’re a good team, a very good team and I think we saw that tonight. Normally when you’re 4-0 up it’s hard to get going really. It looked it. We needed that wake-up call of their penalty, but after that I felt we took over the first half. The second half was more slower.”
The team was a vastly different one from that which will line up against Chelsea on the weekend, with Shola Shoretire making his European debut, more time on the pitch for Amad Diallo, and Tuanzebe being deployed as a midfielder.
“Shola he’s got some skills, attributes that we think are going to make a very good player here and it’s a platform of course tonight – just 15 minutes – it’s something to build on, something for him to remember at Old Trafford. But then again with the fans, he would have enjoyed it more because they give you so much more energy than football at the moment. It is strange, it is different but I’m sure all the fans will see him later on.”
“Fred came off, he had a booking so I didn’t want to take a chance with him. It’s about getting through the round. 4-0 away from home and we kept another clean sheet. Well done!”
“Midfield is one of those positions now we suddenly have Scott, Donny and Paul out. We’ve been really well off before and now we might have to look at options because I’m not sure if any will be available [for Chelsea]. Paul’s definitely not I don’t know about Donny or Scott.”
With several key injuries in midfield, and with an eye to the weekend clash away to Chelsea, it was surprising to see Bruno Fernandes in the starting line-up.
The midfielder is key to United’s ambitions in 2021 and beyond, and United fans would have breathed a collective sigh of relief to see the Portuguese maestro substituted at half time, coming through the opening 45 minutes unscathed.
An injury to Daniel James was perhaps the only low point of the evening for Solskjaer.
“He had a tweak. With the intensity he works at he felt something, so we hope it’s not really serious. It gave Amad a chance to have half an hour-ish.”
After the disappointment of falling at the semi-final stage last season, the manager is looking for a long cup run that culminates in an appearance in the final this time around.
“You remember the defeats more so than the wins and especially semi-finals. You’re so close to the final and the big stage and we’ve had three of them, we’ve already had one of them this season so this group feels hurt of course and want to go further.”
“We are a group that’s very tied together, you have to be at the moment because there’s not a lot else you’re doing and that’s the interaction you have with people. You come in and you work every day. We want to go further and we failed, not failed, you’ve failed in three semi-finals, you want to do better and improve and the culture is really improving. Of course at the moment it’s a little bit different because the coaches are away, but we’ve got some fantastic experience, some good coaches with us. It’s exciting, it’s a group of players that will only improve because we’re still a young team.”
The night was a feather in the cap of Manchester United’s academy, as six of the 16 players fielded by Solskjaer have risen through the clubs ranks.
Dean Henderson and Mason Greenwood were both in the starting eleven, while Shola Shoretire, Marcus Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe, and Brandon Williams all came off the bench.
Ethan Galbraith, another product of the Academy, was also on the bench but was an unused substitute.
United now have a run of crunch fixtures coming up in March, and the manager believes the confidence in the squad will be a big plus as the matches come thick and fast.
“Now until the international break we’ve got seven or eight games and of course you have Chelsea, you have Leicester, you have City, massive games… West Ham too. There are important games in the league, you’ve got Palace away, then who knows who we’ll draw. So there’s three or four weeks now until the international break that are going to be massive for us. We’re in a good place, confidence is good, hopefully we get a few players back in and Dan tonight wasn’t hopefully too bad,” concluded Solskjaer.