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Europa League Preview, Nov 3rd.

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Real Sociedad vs Manchester United

Both of these Group E giants have qualified via the group stage, but there is plenty to play for in San Sebastian on Thursday night.

Sociedad have won all five of their Europa League games and sit top of the pile after defeating United 1-0 at Old Trafford in September.

They will want to finish their group stage campaign with a 100% record, but more importantly they will want to finish top and avoid the play-off draw. All the teams finishing top of their groups get a round off and head straight into the last 16.

They can then put the tournament to bed until March, while the second-placed finishers all face the prospect of a two-legged tie with one of the Champions League drop out teams.

That’s a pretty big incentive with the likes of Barcelona and Bayer Leverkusen potentially lurking around the corner.

United will be desperate to shelve their European campaign until March, but they will need a convincing win in Spain to do so. But that is not out of the question for Erik ten Hag’s men.

United need to win by more than one goal against the LaLiga side, who have the best defence in the competition. They have only conceded one goal – in the 2-1 home win over Omonia – but United have a decent scoring record away in the competition.

United have scored in each of their last 12 Europa League matches away from home since October 2019, but they will need at least two on Thursday.

Ten Hag’s men have won 3-2 away at Omonia and 2-0 at FC Sheriff and Ten Hag has been drumming into his players the importance of winning the group.

The Dutchman has made it clear that winning the group is the aim.

“I told the players weeks ago it was important to win the group. We want to win all the games, but it’s clear, we want to avoid [finishing second in the group]. We want to finish number one in the group,” said Ten Hag ahead of the 1-0 win over Omonia.

They are more than capable of turning up and condemning Sociedad to a deflating two-goal defeat and what is more the hosts have a number of injury issues.

Star man Alexander Sorloth, who has two goals and an assist in this Europa League campaign so far is a doubt. David Silva is missing and Takefusa Kubo dislocated his shoulder in the win over Omonia last week.

Los Txuri-Urdin have also lost their last two domestic games, without scoring, the last of which was a damaging 2-0 home defeat to Real Betis.

It was only Real’s second league victory since mid-September and they managed it with two late goals. 

The timing of fifth-placed Sociedad’s LaLiga blip is unfortunate, but United, who are sure to go with a strong line-up, might just be able to pull off a significant win.

Antony may be rested due to a slight injury, but Anthony Martial could return, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford look set to start.

Bruno Fernandes will also start ahead of a domestic ban this weekend, while Harry Maguire could keep his place in defence.

United have only won by two goals away from home this season (2-0 vs Omonia), but Ten Hag’s men are growing in stature and they might just rise to the occasion in the Basque Country.

Arsenal vs FC Zurich

Arsenal may have qualified through the group, but like United, they will want to top Group A and avoid some of the Champions League big hitters.

With a Premier League tilt on their minds, they will be desperate to put the competition to bed until March and a resounding home win looks to be on the cards.

If PSV fail to win, then Arsenal will top the group. But Mikel Arteta will not want to rely on the Dutch side, who beat them 2-0 last week.

Arteta did make changes for the defeat in Eindhoven, but he reverted to his strongest XI against Nottingham Forest and they promptly brushed the Premier League new boys aside 5-0.

Arsenal have been perfect at home this season, winning eight from eight and Zurich should not cause them too many problems on Thursday.

Arteta will put out a strong line-up against the Swiss side, who won their first group game against Bodo/Glimt last week.

Oleksandr Zinchenko looks set to miss out again, Granit Xhaka is suspended and Bukayo Saka came off in the win vs Nottingham Forest so will likely see Reiss Nelson deputise for him.

It should be a line-up that will have too much for the Swiss side, whose 1-0 win over Sion made it back-to-back wins.

Amazingly the Swiss champions had not won in 13 matches in all competitions prior to beating Bodo/Glimt.

They have conceded 15 goals in their five group-stage games – the worst defensive record in the entire competition – although they could still reach the Europa Conference League.

They would need a shock win in north London, but their showing in the 2-1 defeat to the Gunners earlier in the season will give them hope.

Arteta’s men will not be as forgiving on home soil, though, so expect some goals at The Emirates.

Feyenoord vs Lazio

Group F is finely poised with all four teams able to progress on matchday six.

Lazio are in the box seat, though, and simply need to avoid defeat in Rotterdam on Thursday night. Feyenoord, on the other hand, need a win by more than a goal to finish in the top two otherwise they could miss out.

It’s a group that could see all sorts of permutations, but Lazio are given the nod to edge through. 

Lazio had conceded just five Serie A goals all season before losing 3-1 to Salernitana over the weekend. They were chasing a seventh consecutive clean sheet in the league but ended up on a shock home defeat that could have been worse as they lost their shape late on.

In the Europa League they have lost just once – a heavy 5-1 defeat against FC Midtjylland, but since then they have been solid. Two draws with Sturm Graz and a 2-1 success over the Danes have got Maurizio Sarri’s men close to qualification.

But they still have a job to do in the Netherlands and they look primed to get the draw they want at De Kuip.

Sarri’s side look to be on the rise and even with a derby with Roma to look forward to this weekend, they should have enough focus to grab a point.

Sarri may have one eye on the capital derby, but he won’t risk too many changes .Manuel Lazzari returns to the squad after suspension and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will start ahead of a domestic ban.

Lazio will try to keep things tight and although they are susceptible to lapses, on the whole they have been defensively solid this season.

Key stats

Man Utd are undefeated in 33 of their last 37 EL matches

Real Sociedad have won all five EL matches this season

Real Sociedad have kept a clean sheet in their last three EL matches

Real Sociedad have scored at least two goals in their last four EL matches

There have been over 2.5 goals scored in FC Zurich’s last five EL games

There have been under 2.5 goals scored in Arsenal’s last three EL games

There have been over 2.5 goals scored in six of Lazio’s last seven EL games

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