Just days away from a huge Premier League clash with league leading Arsenal, perhaps Manchester United could be forgiven for a European night that seemed to be all about holding serve.
From the lineup selections to a wee lack of urgency from the UEFA Group A leaders, it all seemed a bit deflated as Manchester United and last place Real Sociedad exchanged a couple of bad misses, a few half chances and not much else. United will retain a Group A lead after the 0-0 draw, one where the second half did come to life a bit, at least, following a first 45 that could kindly be termed “sleepy.”
The second period included a notorious miss from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and a squandered penalty kick from Robin van Persie – one that came after what looked very much like a disgraceful dive from Ashley Young.
Regardless, the whiff of crisis now dissipated around David Moyes’ Manchester United, a point on the road in Spain (where the Red Devils have traditionally experienced precious little success) will do for Moyes’ men ahead of Sunday’s Old Trafford date with Arsene Wenger and Co.
There was so little happening during a languid first half Tuesday. A little elbow from Hernandez here, a little thrust by Wayne Rooney there and … not much else to say about a cautious approach from both sides on a damp, windy night in San Sebastian in the north of Spain.
Marouane Fellaini’s booking not long before the break gave everyone a little something to talk about, especially when he fouled right away to begin the second period. (Sure enough, he was off in the 89th for a second yellow card.)
Sociedad may have been the home team, but the Spanish side, doing better lately in La Liga, didn’t fire toward David De Gea in Manchester United goal until 28 minutes in.
The tempo quickening some, Real Sociedad started the second 45 with a couple of quick half-chances, right before the blown chance that will have Red Devils fans buzzing.
Shinji Kagawa, a bit ill-suited for his left-sided role in United’s 4-4-2 but surely happy to be on the field, found space to deliver a sharp, low ball from the left. Hernandez did what he does best, expertly timing his burst of separation from a defender – but then blasting his uncontested left-footed shot from six yards implausibly high over goal.
It was the kind of miss that we have seen more often from Chicharito in a Mexican shirt rather than United colors.
Van Persie had been on the field just two minutes when he clanged one off the post from close range. The Dutchman came on for Rooney in the 63rd minute. Kagawa, United’s most productive attacker, was part of that build-up, too.
Four minutes after that, Van Persie’s blast from the penalty spot went thumping off the right post. He was at the spot after the softest of arm tugs had felled Young a step inside the penalty area.
Van Persie and Young did add more punch to the visitor’s attack, and United had most of the ball, always seeming more likely to score, although clear chances remained fairly rare for both teams.
One of six changes from the weekend to Moyes’ lineup was Ryan Giggs, assigned to the starting bunch about three weeks ahead of his 40th birthday. The other notable change was in Mexican international Hernandez replacing Van Persie – which probably has a lot to do with United’s upcoming PL fixture.
Real Sociedad: Bravo; Carlos Martinez, Gonzalez, Inigo Martinez, de la Bella; Pardo, Markel Bergara, Zurutuza; Vela, Agirretxe, Griezmann
Manchester United: De Gea, Evra, Ferdidand, Vidic, Smalling; Valencia, Fellaini, Giggs, Kagawa; Hernadez, Rooney