Inside Man Utd's preparations for Real Sociedad away day
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Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has explained his left-wing decision to use club captain Harry Maguire as a striker in Thursday’s 1-0 Europa League win against Real Sociedad. The Red Devils were victorious on the night, but failed to beat La Real by two clear goals and had to settle for second in Group E.
Alejandro Garnacho scored his first senior goal on 17 minutes to hand the visitors the perfect start. However, that was their only shot on target in the whole game and Ten Hag switched his side’s game plan with 10 minutes left by lumping Maguire on upfront alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.
After full-time, the Dutchman explained that he opted for Maguire over an attacker in Anthony Elanga to complement a more direct play style in the latter stages. He pinpointed Ronaldo and the centre-back’s heading ability as threats he wanted to utilise.
He said: “[It’s] clear [why Maguire went upfront]: we needed the goal and then we went more opportune. With Cristiano and Harry Maguire, you have two good headers and we tried to go more direct into the box and I think we did several times, quicker to get into the box for the opponent.”
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Despite his bold move, Maguire couldn’t make the desired impact in the final third, and United didn’t clinch the desperately needed second goal. They now face a daunting task in the Europa League play-off round in February and will discover their opponents in Monday’s draw.
The Old Trafford giants must navigate their way past one of the Champions League’s third-place teams to reach the Europa League last 16. Ajax, Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, RB Salzburg, Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk and Sporting CP are all potential opponents.
Elanga will have been initially disappointed to be denied back-to-back starts by Garnacho, given he boasts slightly more European experience than the 18-year-old upstart. And he may have been even more disheartened to see Ten Hag choose a centre-back to add to his attack over him.
However, the United boss’ decision was warranted. La Real had truly ‘parked the bus’ at that stage and bringing Elanga on would only have made sense if he had opportunities to use his pace to run in behind. But as the hosts were so deep, an extra target man to aim for with a barrage of crosses was unsurprisingly the more enticing option.
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