Alejandro Garnacho’s goal ensured another Manchester United win but it wasn’t enough to overtake Real Sociedad to claim the top spot in Group E.
The visitors started strong and drew the first blood early through Garnacho, who finished Cristiano Ronaldo’s lay-off with a strong strike past goalkeeper Alex Remiro.
But the second goal never came thanks to the hosts’ solid defending and Erik ten Hag’s tactical tweaks in the second half. United changed their shape and approach mid-game and lost all their momentum.
The failure to win by a two-goal margin means United will have to play two extra games and face a Champions League dropout in February.
Nevertheless, there were plenty of positives to take away from the game that assured the Red Devils won’t struggle too much in the knockout-round playoffs.
1. United’s defending
Ten Hag’s men could only open Sociedad’s deep block once to find a goal, but to their credit, they didn’t give the home side much joy going the other way either.
United have now conceded just one goal – a penalty against Chelsea – in their last seven fixtures, a remarkable turnaround for a side that began their campaign by conceding six goals against Brighton and Brentford.
As United moved higher up the pitch to double their lead, both Victor Lindelof and Lisandro Martinez remained solid at the back and handled the physicality of Alexander Sørloth pretty well.
When Ten Hag switched to a 3-3-1-3 formation, Martinez was left as the only centre-back on the pitch and still Sociedad couldn’t muster any meaningful chance to end the tie before the full-time whistle.
2. David de Gea
Sociedad’s best chance to score the goal came after the ball bounced off Martinez just outside the box to Andoni Gorosabel, who tested De Gea with a curling shot. The Spaniard pushed away the initial effort and displayed great agility to block Marin’s attempt from the rebound.
Apart from the stunning double save, De Gea didn’t have to do much to keep his third straight clean sheet.
However, he still influenced United’s build-up play with good distribution and calmness in possession. His pass to Bruno Fernandes beat Sociedad’s high press leading to Garnacho’s goal.
The best moment of the night for the travelling support came early on when the United academy graduate registered his first senior goal, assisted by his idol Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 18-year-old was handed a second straight European start and became United’s youngest non-English scorer in Europe with the 17th-minute strike.
Garnacho has been a nightmare for defenders in a handful of minutes on the pitch with the first team.
His directness, ability to go both ways and pace have worked wonders for United in recent games, and now it’s all about carefully managing the Argentine’s game time and environment to ensure proper development.