Manchester United

Real Sociedad and Manchester United will battle it out for top spot – and automatic last-16 qualification – in Europa League Group E on Thursday.

Manchester United head coach Erik ten Hag seems likely to field a strong side away to Real Sociedad on Thursday, as the Red Devils look to leapfrog the Basques and win Europa League Group E.

United and La Real are both already certain to finish in the top two, but whoever comes first will avoid having to negotiate a February playoff against one of the eight teams due to drop into the competition from the Champions League.

In the final round of Europa League group games, United need to win by two goals or more to come top and qualify automatically for March’s last 16. If the visitors draw, lose or win by only a one-goal margin at Reale Arena, they will finish as runners-up and go into the playoff round.

Antony, Martial, Sancho stay in Manchester

United attacking trio Antony, Anthony Martial and Jadon Sancho haven’t travelled to Spain. Antony sat out Sunday’s Premier League win over West Ham with a knock, and remains unavailable. Martial is still recovering from a back problem that has sidelined him since mid-October, and Sancho has been struggling with illness in recent days.

Raphaël Varane remains out with a hamstring injury sustained in the league draw with Chelsea in late October – the France defender is in danger of missing the World Cup – but fellow centre-back Victor Lindelöf is back in contention, having missed the West Ham game through illness. Right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who has played for just four minutes this season, has returned to the squad after overcoming a back problem.

Ronaldo in line to start in Spain

With United in need of a result to avoid an additional knockout round, Ten Hag isn’t expected to make many changes – if any – to the team that played at the weekend.

Having started every Europa League game so far this term, Cristiano Ronaldo is well placed to lead the line once more. “Ronaldo is an important part of this group and a leader type,” Ten Hag told his pre-match press conference. “He’s a threat to every defence and you always have to keep an eye on him because every gap he will use.”

Anthony Elanga made his first Premier League start since September on Sunday, and in the absence of Antony, Martial and Sancho, may well be given the nod again. That said, 18-year-old Alejando Garnacho impressed against Sheriff Tiraspol on Europa League matchday five, and has been tipped in the local Manchester media to come in for Elanga against La Real.

Elsewhere, Tyrell Malacia could replace Luke Shaw at left-back. The Dutchman is another player who has been ever-present in United’s Europa League campaign.

Possible Manchester United line-up vs Real Sociedad:

De Gea, Dalot, Maguire, Martínez, Malacia, Casemiro, Eriksen, Elanga, Fernandes, Rashford, Ronaldo.

Real Sociedad vs Manchester United: key info

The 2022/23 Europa League Group E match between Real Sociedad and Manchester United kicks off at Reale Arena, San Sebastián, at 6:45pm local time (CET).

In the US, that’s 1:45pm ET and 10:45am PT. Viewers in the States will be able to watch the game live on TUDN USA, Paramount+ and ViX+.

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