Real Sociedad 0-1 Manchester United: Garnacho winner not enough to earn top spot

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Alejandro Garnacho's strike to give Manchester United a 1-0 Europa League victory over Real Sociedad on Thursday was in vain as the Spanish side retained Group E's top spot.

A win by two or more goals would have seen United through as group winners by virtue of a superior head-to-head record, and Garnacho's early finish sparked hopes of Erik ten Hag's side achieving just that.

But a resolute defensive display from La Real saw them do enough to prevent United getting a second, despite coming under increasing pressure late on.

Ten Hag's men advance but will be forced into a two-legged play-off with one of the teams knocked out of the Champions League, a list that includes Barcelona and Juventus.

La Real started brighter but United grew into the game and took the lead after 17 minutes, Garnacho latching onto Cristiano Ronaldo's throughball and holding off a defender before rifling home from a tight angle.

David de Gea made a stunning double save to preserve United's lead before the break, tipping Andoni Gorosabel's long-range strike wide at full stretch before somehow blocking Pablo Marin's shot from the rebound over.

United still required another goal, but La Real threatened at the other end 16 minutes from time, with substitute Ander Guevara forcing a smart save from De Gea with his low drive.

La Real continued to defend resiliently and limited United to few chances, ultimately seeing out the game to secure top spot and their place in the round of 16, while the Red Devils will face a nervy play-off.

What does it mean? Garnacho's goal United's only shot on target

Garnacho's smart early finish could have given United the impetus to kick on and win the match by the required margin, but they lacked the cutting edge in the final third needed to break down a solid La Real backline.

United registered just 0.56 xG (expected goals) to La Real's 0.95, and despite holding 57 per cent of the possession in the second half, Ten Hag's side failed to have a shot on target after the break.

They will need to be more creative if they draw the likes of Barca or Juve in the play-off.

Garnacho a bright spark

United will be disappointed not to have pipped their Spanish opponents to top spot, but Garnacho's display will be a source of some joy.

Aside from his goal, the 18-year-old Garnacho looked a threat down the left and could have had a second when he sliced off target shortly after scoring.

Ronaldo struggles again

Playing back in Spain, where he enjoyed so much success in the colours of Real Madrid, Ronaldo failed to make much of an impact leading the line for United.

He looked a shadow of his former self, failing to hit the target with either of his two shots – one of which was a great chance – and winning just 46.2 per cent of his duels as United lacked presence in attack.

Key Opta facts

- Manchester United are now unbeaten in their last five away games against Spanish opposition in European competition (W4 D1), their longest such run, keeping a clean sheet in each victory.

- Real Sociedad's five game winning run, their longest in European competition since November 1998 (6) is over, suffering their first defeat in this season's Europa League. Four of their last five defeats in Europe have come at the Reale Arena.

- Manchester United have now won seven of their last eight away games in the Europa League (L1), keeping a clean sheet in six of those victories.

- Erik ten Hag has now gone unbeaten in his last 10 away games in European competition (W8 D2), including wins in all three of his games as Manchester United manager.

- This is the first time Manchester United have had one shot on target or fewer in a game in European competition since October 2019 in the Europa League against Partizan Belgrade, winning that game 1-0 also.

What's next?

Both teams return to domestic action on Sunday, when United will travel to Aston Villa while La Real host Valencia.