Attentions switch away from domestic action and back to matters on the continent for Manchester United tonight as they travel to Turin to take on Real Sociedad.
United would have preferred to be returning back to European action in the Champions League rather than Europe’s second-tiered competition, yet, the Europa League still provides the club with another avenue in which to secure a major trophy and replicate the success they enjoyed in the competition back in 2017.
They’ll have to overcome a tricky opponent in Sociedad to do so though, and the Spanish side have lost only one of their previous seven league matches and currently sit fifth in the La Liga table.
In terms of what to expect, Imanol Alguacil’s side tend to line up in variations of a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 formation and their attacking play throughout the season has been impressive.
Attacking sequences usually see dangerous forward players drifting into central positions whilst width is provided by gallivanting wing-backs.
In La Liga, they rank inside the division’s top four in terms of goals scored, Expected Goals (xG) and shots attempted.
However, their good play going forward isn’t at the expense of their defence.
They’ve conceded the fourth-fewest number of goals in La Liga, have allowed the fewest number of shots on their goal, and only division leaders Atlético Madrid have a lower xG-against (xGA).
Their capacity to restrict shots on their goal ties in a lot with their aggressive nature out of possession.
They have a passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA) average of 8.25 this season which ranks as the second-lowest across all of Europe’s top five leagues.
PPDA is a metric that measures how aggressively a team presses the ball high up the pitch, the lower the average, the more aggressive the press is.
For comparison, Leeds United have the most aggressive PPDA average in the Premier League this season with 9.29.
Not only are Sociedad impressive as a unit, but they also have a number of dangerous individuals capable of hurting United across the tie.
There are familiar faces within their ranks such as former United academy player Adnan Januzaj, as well as old Manchester City foe David Silva, yet arguably the most notable threat and the one United should fear the most is left-sided attacker Mikel Oyarzabal.
Some similarities can be drawn between him and Bruno Fernandes in terms of their huge contribution to their team’s respective attacks.
For Sociedad, he ranks first in terms of shots attempted per 90, second for Expected Assists (xA), first for actual assists and top for goals scored with a total of 12.
Even with the benefit of being his side’s main set-piece taker, his creative ability and goal threat is undeniable and Ole Gunnar Solskajaer’s men will need to shackle him as much as they can on Thursday night.