With Manchester United’s season apparently on the brink of crisis – after eight games, they are eight points adrift of the leaders, and for the first time in many years David Moyes now has Everton above United in the league - a successful run in Europe is a necessity.
A comfortable home win against Bayer Leverkusen in the opening game of the groups was an ideal start, and had a late goal in Donestsk not deprived them of a 100% start, the reds would be sitting pretty already. That goal however could put an entirely different perspective on the group. Real Sociedad are sitting mid-table in La Liga, and in previous season, a game such as this would have been seen as a pretty non-contentious three pointer for United. This however, is not a season much like any previous ones for the Old Trafford club.
With the irony of a revitalised Wayne Rooney playing in a team that seems to have lost its way, as well as its leader, Wednesday’s game takes on a new significance. Over the weekend, ex-Red Gary Neville neatly encapsulated one of the problems of the team in that the midfield appears slow and one-paced. The introduction of Fellaini appeared, to many United fans I have spoken to very much as a non-United type of purchase, and the games that the Belgian has played in to date have done little to reassure the fans. Playing alongside Carrick in the United engine room does make that central area seem a little one-dimensional, but it may just be a partnership that needs to flourish with time.
The Spanish team arrive in Manchester at a fairly low ebb. Their season to date has been mediocre and they sit currently almost exactly halfway in the La Liga standings. United fans would do well to remember however the last time that a Basque club visited Old Trafford. Athletic Bilbao, were also at the time hardly top dogs in Spain but, over two games, they dominated and won both games with apparent comfort netting a number of goals.
Despite the current malaise at Old Trafford, I still believe that united will be too strong for Sociedad, and with the added hunger of needing a win, their appetite could overwhelm the Basques. I take United to win and restore a little faith and belief in the squad probably by a three goal margin. Mind you, I did say the same when Bilbao rocked up at Old Trafford.