Manchester United emerged 4-0 winners against Real Sociedad in Turin on Thursday night, giving themselves a commanding aggregate lead and vital away goals in the Europa League last-32 tie.
The relocated first leg took away Sociedad’s hopes of any home advantage, and their hopes of reaching the last 16 might also have vanished here as a Bruno Fernandes brace, Marcus Rashford goal and late Dan James strike sealed United’s win.
Here are five things we learned…
A familiar face
Former Man United midfielder Adnan Januzaj lined up against the Red Devils here, and he nearly put Real Sociedad ahead within the opening minute or so with a fine curled effort.
READ MORE: Player ratings as United thrash Sociedad
The 26-year-old’s shot went narrowly wide of the top corner and swiftly marked the end of Januzaj’s significant contributions on the evening.
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The midfielder, once touted for great things at Old Trafford, no doubt wanted to be the chief difference-marker in Turin.
Ultimately, however, he failed to threaten United much and it was Fernandes who – somewhat predictably – proved the standout presence in the middle of the pitch.
Greenwood and James’ opportunities
With Anthony Martial coming off the bench and Edinson Cavani missing from United’s frontline due to injury, James was handed a relatively rare start out wide – as was Mason Greenwood.
Neither player looked like grasping their opportunity for much of the match, though – of course – Greenwood prefers to be positioned up front and James would have done extremely well to outshine Fernandes’ creative contributions.
But the pair improved as the game progressed, combining for an offside finish in the second half before James scored United’s fourth goal in the final seconds.
Fernandes’ shrewd finishes
Fernandes broke the deadlock on 26 minutes with a clever finish after making an intelligent read.
Rashford clipped a neat ball through to the Portugal midfielder, who was rushing into the Sociedad box and diverted his run slightly to allow goalkeeper Alex Remiro to collide with his defenders. That mix-up in the La Liga backline allowed Fernandes to slot the loose ball into an almost empty net to put United 1-0 up.
The Red Devils’ talisman frequently demonstrates his nous, but this was a somewhat unique example of that cleverness.
The 26-year-old then doubled his and United’s tally in the second half with another smart move, dummying as the ball reached James, before veering back to slot past Remiro.
Sociedad slick but soft
A lot of Sociedad’s football was easy on the eye, which was no surprise given the presence of former Man City midfielder David Silva, but ultimately the Spanish outfit did not prove the banana skin that some United fans anticipated.
Of course, anything can happen in the second leg of a European tie, as any football fan will tell you, but only if Sociedad can add an end product to their neat passing moves and exhibit some more solidity at the back.
‘Away goals’ farce
United’s goals were particularly crucial as they were ‘away goals’, as much as away goals can exist in a neutral venue, as Juventus’ Allianz Stadium functioned here.
And that’s the thing, each goal felt no more like an away goal than the game felt like a home leg for Sociedad or an away leg for United. In the reverse fixture, United will (as things stand) have a home advantage at Old Trafford, in as much as they’ll be in familiar surroundings even though they will not have the luxury of playing in front of their supporters.
Of course, it would be unfair for Sociedad to be the only team in the tie allowed to record away goals, but surely that factor should have been scrapped altogether in this kind of scenario – of which there are a few across the Europa and Champions Leagues this season.
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