UEFA Youth League
Manchester United 0 Real Sociedad 1
United’s youth-set up now get to watch videos of Barcelona as part of their footballing education. Looking at the lesson in football our Under-19s received at the hands of Barca’s less illustrious La Liga rivals, it’s not before time because this was a performance that emphasised all the best qualities of the Spanish system. Despite that, United mounted an increasingly convincing response to their Basque opponents as the game went on and worked hard to secure an equaliser that ultimately proved beyond them.
United’s problem was that it took them too long to adapt to the threat carried by the opposition and they conceded from Real Sociedad’s first attack, when Bautista shrugged off Iaonnou on the left to find Odriozola, who put away an easy chance. The move exemplified so much of the visitors’ play: they looked comfortable on the ball throughout, moving the ball around with speed and precision and showing the quality that demolished Bayer Leverkusen in their previous game. Odriozola cut a particularly impressive figure, displaying that easy confidence that’s a feature of so many players generated by the Spanish youth system, barely letting a pass go astray and looking a threat every time he had the ball.
The Basque team had the best of the chances in the rest of the first half, though United gradually became attuned to their game and were more successful in denying them the space they found so easily in the first twenty minutes, responding to Real’s close passing skills with an increased energy and tempo that occasionally exposed their opponents’ discomfort. It was this that brought United’s best chance early in the second half, when Harrop shot side with only the keeper to beat, following some hard running and tenacious build-up play from Byrne.
United were denied what looked a blatant penalty around the hour mark when Weir, who’d replaced the ineffective Perreira in midfield, turned sharply in the area and appeared to be upended, but the referee waved play on. Weir began to give United a more solid look on the right and also gave Janko, who made an impressive debut, more scope to overlap. Along with the incisive runs of Wilson, this brought far more of an attacking threat, but one that failed to yield an equaliser against opponents who continued to look dangerous on the break and only failed to grab a late second after Joel Pereira in the United goal thwarted Odriozola at close range. Pearson was then sent off after a second yellow in stoppage time when he foolishly kicked the ball at the referee, perhaps an action that showed his frustration at his side’s ultimately fruitless endeavours but one that was silly and will only deprive United of his useful services in the next game.
There’s no question that playing against teams of this quality can only be good for United’s youngsters. However, it will now take a win at Real Sociedad to maintain a serious interest for the Reds in this competition. On this showing, you wouldn’t bet against the Basque side going on to secure maximum points from the group.