Real Sociedad Defeat Red Devil’s as Europa League Campaign Off to a Poor Start
The Europa League returned on Thursday, with Real Sociedad making the trek to Manchester to face Erik ten Hag’s United. Midfielder Brais Méndez, from the penalty spot, gave the Basque club their first win against Manchester United (0-1) on a day of mourning in the United Kingdom.
It was a historic victory and an unforgettable night for the men led by Imanol Alguacil. Real Sociedad did it. And it happened on the day the United Kingdom and the entire world were shaken by the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The club from San Sebastian finally defeated a big European club, and it didn’t happen just on any stage. La Real won at Old Trafford, with all that that means. The dream finally came true in “The Theater of Dreams,” as legend Bobby Charlton dubbed United’s stadium.
Real Sociedad had been looking for this type of glory for a long time. And they found it thanks to Brais Méndez and his goal from the penalty spot in the second half. That one play sealed the work done by an entire team. It showed that they have grown so much that they are ready to look Manchester United in the eye and beat them at home. Over 2,000 rowdy fans in the stands helped Sociedad believe their growth is real and palpable. And this success inspires them to dream big, to fight even for the first place in the group. This win should help Real Sociedad continue their European campaign, which is their great challenge and objective this season. Their hard work has started to pay off.
Real Sociedad’s Back Line Held Strong
Real Sociedad came out trying to be true to their style, showing courage and applying high pressure on United’s back line – one of their weak points. But the physical strength of the English side made it difficult for Sociedad to put their plans into play. It took immense effort and discipline to keep United from overwhelming the field. Cristiano Ronaldo and Casemiro were now on United’s initial lineup.
The Portuguese had to wait for several matches, while the Brazilian started for the first time since he landed in Manchester. The list of former Madrid players was completed by Frenchman Raphaël Varane in the defensive line for the Red Devils, although he did not see action during the game.
On the opposite end, Real Sociedad showed strength and discipline in defense with Aritz Elustondo in place of Frenchman Robin Le Normand. And they relied on their attacking potential with a line of fine offensive players: David Silva, Brais, Mikel Merino, and Takefusa Kubo, who Alguacil instructed to be more engaged by keeping possession longer. That was the tactic used to keep United’s attacks at bay.
United tried to impose their terms with a high and suffocating pressure on Sociedad’s back and midfield lines. The San Sebastian boys played with personality and plenty of courage, just what their coach had asked them to do from the previous match. They did not create good chances, however, since there were no charges that reached the goal guarded by David De Gea. But seeing them at Old Trafford with more than 50% of ball possession was already a sign that something good could happen.
But as expected, United brought the most danger to Alex Remiro’s goal, although without being lethal. Cristiano Ronaldo could have converted through a header after a cross from Diogo Dalot, but fortunately for Real Sociedad, Cristiano was caught offside. It would have changed the outcome of the match. But Sociedad remained alive, reached halftime, and came back ready to strike in the second half.
Harsh Penalty Call the Deciding Moment
Coach Alguacil understood the need to change strikers. That’s what’s different about his bench now – he has effective, quality alternatives. Nigerian international Umar Sadiq did not fully understand, despite his efforts, what the Sociedad offensive needed, and Alguacil decided to bring Norwegian Alexander Sørloth on. The Leipzig loanee managed to distract and draw in the Manchester United center-backs, which allowed Kubo to run free on the left.
The Norwegian and the Japanese offset a United side that came back energized in the second half. After two brilliant moves by Kubo, came the corner kick. The Japanese winger drove the ball to the end line and crossed it back to find Silva in the clear and unmarked. Silva’s shot on goal glanced off Lisandro Martinez‘s leg and onto his arm.
Italian referee Marco Di Bello did not think twice, calling a penalty kick. Brais Méndez stepped up and scored to send the Sociedad fans into a frenzy. That was a historic goal that will be remembered in San Sebastian for years to come. Real Sociedad defended that goal and that lead as if it were the greatest treasure in the world. With impressive defensive work, without allowing United to get into the game. And they won. And showed that they now know how to beat big teams on big stages. That’s a story that no one would have believed beforehand.