Man Utd vs Real Sociedad predictions: Ronaldo to shine on Europa bow
Fresh from their win over Premier League leaders Arsenal, Manchester United renew acquaintances with Thursday night Europa League football and Real Sociedad at Old Trafford.
Erik ten Hag's team made it four wins in a row last Sunday to further banish any lingering doubts that the Dutchman had only been papering over the cracks at United since his summer appointment.
The Red Devils go into this Group E opener as one of the favourites to claim a trophy that escaped their grasp when David de Gea missed the crucial spot-kick in an epic penalty shoot-out to decide the 2021 final against Villarreal.
La Real were among United's Europa League knockout stage victims that season and Imanol Alguacil's team also came through a tough group last term only to suffer at the hands of RB Leipzig in the knockout round play-offs.
The Basque outfit continued their solid start to the LaLiga season with a 1-1 home draw against Atletico Madrid last weekend and will travel to Manchester with the intention of upsetting United's harmony.
United are still without the services of striker Anthony Martial, who has missed the last three games with an Achilles problem.
So, up front, Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to return to the Red Devils' starting XI for the first time since last month's 4-0 defeat at Brentford as he replaces Marcus Rashford.
Antony could also benefit from a longer run-out after Ten Hag cut short his goalscoring debut against Arsenal by whipping him off early in the second half.
There could also be starts at the back for captain Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw.
Diogo Dalot looks set to retain his place at right-back with Aaron Wan-Bissaka absent recently with a knock, while Casemiro is expected to earn his first start since joining from Real Madrid.
For Real Sociedad, centre-back Robin Le Normand misses out with a metatarsal injury.
The Frenchman's absence at Old Trafford will be a real blow to the visitors as he has played the full 90 minutes in each of their four league games so far this season.
Aritz Elustondo and Jon Pacheco are vying for the chance to step in with the former being the more natural, like-for-like replacement.
Vice-captain Mikel Oyarzabal is still recovering from the ACL injury he picked up in March, but Umar Sadiq, who was signed when Alexander Isak left for Newcastle, will be champing at the bit to add to the debut goal he got against Atletico.
Ronaldo has never previously featured in the Europa League as the Champions League's all-time leading goalscorer has been involved in the senior European competition every season since his 2003 transfer to United.
However, the 37-year-old did make two appearances in the competition's forerunner — the UEFA Cup — for Sporting back in 2002.
Real Sociedad hold the record for the biggest Europa League group stage away win, a 6-0 thrashing of FK Vardar in October 2017.
La Real have failed to score in all four of their previous matches against the Red Devils, although they did hold United to a goalless draw on their last trip to Old Trafford.
United ought to get their European campaign off to a winning start at home with the hosts likely to have too much quality for Real Sociedad.
The Red Devils appear to be a happy camp again with Ten Hag having made it clear through his recent selections that only those players who perform can be sure of their places.
This game, however, offers some big names that did not start against Arsenal a chance to push their claims and it would be no surprise to see Ronaldo get on the scoresheet for the first time this season.
The Portuguese star should thrive on the service provided by new recruit Antony and could be the man to break the deadlock at Old Trafford.