[Champions League] Real Sociedad 0-0 Manchester United
Manchester United earned another Champions League point away from home with a goalless draw against Real Sociedad at Estadio Anoeta on Tuesday, and while a missed second-half penalty from substitute Robin van Persie left a rueful feeling that the Reds could have wrapped up victory.
David Moyes' men remain unbeaten after four games in Group A. However, Marouane Fellaini's late red card was the main low point of Matchday 4 for United. It wasn’t exactly a classic encounter in San Sebastian, and while a draw was probably a fair result, United had the better of the chances to take victory.
The Reds seemed to ease through the first half almost as if sitting on a lead. United’s best attacking play early on came either through Wayne Rooney, who repeatedly dropped deep to take up possession, or down the flanks through the speed of Antonio Valencia on the right and via the nimble feet of Shinji Kagawa on the opposite wing.
Kagawa was involved in United’s best two openings in the first half. He flashed an early shot wide after being teed up by Rooney’s delightful flick inside the box, and then the Japanese attacker fizzed in another shot after 20 minutes that stung the palms of Real Sociedad goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
The closest David De Gea came to being troubled in the opening 45 minutes was from a vicious, inswinging Carlos Vela cross from the right that United’s no.1 had to tip behind for a corner. Moments later he was scrambling across his goal again as La Real left-back Alberto de la Bella curled a shot narrowly wide. Genuine chances proved few and far between in a tame first half, and the fact that referee Nicola Rizzoli blew his whistle as soon as the clock hit 45 minutes was telling.
The second half followed a similar pattern, although United’s opportunities in front of goal became slightly more clear-cut. Javier Hernandez missed a glorious chance to put the Reds in front when Kagawa’s cross bobbled up on the six-yard line and Chicharito blazed his shot over the bar. A glance across the line revealed that the linesman's flag was up anyway.
After 63 minutes David Moyes made a double substitution, replacing Rooney and Hernandez with van Persie and Ashley Young, while Kagawa shifted inside to play more centrally. The change almost had an immediate impact as Kagawa burst forward and slipped a pass to Young, who crossed to the far post where van Persie smashed a shot against the woodwork. The Dutchman went close again seconds later when a left-footed 20-yard drive skidded past the post.
Those three players again combined in the 69th minute as Young played a one-two with Kagawa and went down in the box under the challenge of Markel Bergara to earn a penalty. Van Persie stepped up and struck with plenty of power but his effort rebounded off the post.
Substitute Xabi Prieto also almost made a telling impact from the bench when his shot deflected off Vela and went just past De Gea’s top corner.
The game was petering out by the time Fellaini’s trip on David Zurutuza earned him a second booking, having earlier fouled Bergara, and he was sent off. Still, with Shakhtar Donetsk and Bayer Leverkusen also drawing 0-0 in Ukraine, the Reds remain top of Group A and occupy a commanding position to secure qualification for the knockout stages.
The Match Reds boss David Moyes summed it up best as a missed opportunity for United to take three vital points in the quest for qualification for the knockout stages. “We're in a strong position,” he said. “If we'd won tonight it would have given us a real, real chance of being the team to top the group. But we're still in a healthy position.” Ultimately, there wasn’t much to choose between the two sides, but substitute Robin van Persie’s missed penalty in the second half was United’s best chance of victory. Marouane Fellaini's late red card merely added to the frustration.
Star men This wasn’t a match of outstanding individual contributions, but MUTV pundits Lee Sharpe and David May chose Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling and Patrice Evra as their Man of the Match candidates. Before he was replaced in the second half, Rooney played a marauding free role, working all over the pitch to try to create openings, while Smalling and Evra had busy nights at full-back. Shinji Kagawa was also involved in many of United’s most dangerous attacks and deserves credit.
Sub-plots Ryan Giggs made his 950th club appearance, partnering Fellaini in the centre of United’s midfield. Elsewhere, in spite of continuing rainfall throughout the game, the Anoeta groundstaff watered the home side’s attacking half during the break, hoping presumably to add some zip to their play. Sadly, the game lacked exactly that incisive pace in the final third to make a telling difference.
Opposition Real Sociedad coach Jagoba Arrasate had stated that his team would take the game to United but it took them a while to come anywhere near fulfilling that promise. They were neat, tidy and on occasion threatened inside United’s box.
Moves of the match Rooney’s delightful flick in the first half teed up a Kagawa shot, while in the second half there was a nice bit of chest control from Fellaini to take the ball away from his man before slipping a neat pass to Rooney, who surged forward and almost found Chicharito’s run. Almost, but not quite. That was the story of the night. Even Kagawa’s brilliantly angled, arced ball over the top for van Persie resulted in the Dutchman twisting and turning to beat his man and returning the pass to United’s Japanese schemer. But it was just a touch too far behind him.
In the stands Usually the travelling Reds are stuck up in the heavens at away grounds. This time, the 1,500 or so United fans were tucked in the corner, low down, peering over Anoeta’s athletics track. Still, they were vocal throughout and all this rain made it feel very much like home. Roy Keane’s appearance on the pitch as part of ITV’s team of pundits provided plenty of reason to reel off the full repertoire of Keane terrace anthems.