It's a huge week for Real Sociedad - it doesn't come much bigger than Manchester United and Real Madrid. This time last year La Real had won just three of their opening ten league fixtures, but went on to lose only twice in their remaining 28 La Liga matches. They are only one point better off at the same stage this season, whilst it's hard to imagine they can go on a similar run, they have won three out of their last four games.
The departure of Spain's manager of the year for 2012-2013 Philippe Montanier and midfielder Asier Illaramendi to Saturday's nemesis Real Madrid has certainly not helped. Along with injuries to a number of players including Illaramendi's replacement Esteban Granero, who was ruled out for six months after suffering a knee-ligament injury against Shakhtar. Montanier's assistant Jagoba Arrasate now has the reins and anything less than a win would see Sociedad eliminated from the competition.
It's also been a difficult start for David Moyes at Manchester United, though his fortune in the Champions League has been a reprieve from their Premier League form. A recent uplift has meant they are only three points from second place domestically, despite the ever-increasing pressure from the media and supporters alike.
United have won their last four matches in all competitions and in three of those they have scored inside the opening quarter, including three goals in 22 minutes at the weekend against Fulham. This early intensity shocked Real Sociedad at Old Trafford and the Basques were lucky the damage wasn't more severe. They will be more prepared this time around and will aim to keep things tight at the back, whilst using their pace on the counter attack to spring a surprise or two of their own.
Since the first meeting of the two sides, Antoine Griezmann has scored five goals in three games. The Frenchman is in fine form and it was his spectacular finish that put them through to the group stages. "We're going to make it tough for United. We can beat anyone at the Anoeta and we want to give the supporters something to cheer about," stated the 22 year-old. Along with former Arsenal player Carlos Vela, Sociedad have plenty of speed out on the flanks to trouble the United full-backs.
Sir Alex Ferguson had this incredible ability to rotate his wide players to maximum effect. Individuals would be superb for four or five games in a row, then disappear for a couple of weeks with the outside world unsure of their existence. Moyes is another manager that likes to use the width of the pitch as his wingers look to supply crosses for his strikers, but he has had more varied results. Adnan Januzaj has been the one exception as the new teenage sensation at Carrington. Antonio Valencia had his best game of the season versus Alberto De la Bella, with both Nani and Ashley Young failing to impress. As a result Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa have been pushed out to the left at times, whilst Wilfried Zaha is yet too feature.
Chance Creation in Front of the Back Four
As well as creating chances from wide areas; the two teams could gain an advantage in using a strength, which happens to be a weakness of their competitor. Real Sociedad are impressive at shooting from distance, with players like Xabi Prieto and Rúben Pardo offering them options from long-range. The Red Devils have been slow to close down these kinds of areas and David De Gea's footwork at times had failed him. For United it's their ability to make through balls as Wayne Rooney tries to find his strike partner Robin Van Persie, though the English champions are particularly poor at timing their runs as they are caught offside often.
Neither side tend to play with natural destroyers at the base of their midfield, unless Markel Bergara and Phil Jones are deployed there, which means there is a lot of space to exploit. Pardo and Michael Carrick are closer to deep-lying playmakers, which means the opposing attackers may have more time on the ball to pick a pass or find the angle to attempt a shot in front of the defence.
Only Barcelona has picked up fewer bookings than Real Sociedad in La Liga this season, whilst they possess the lowest statistics for tackles, interceptions and fouls per game. Manchester United are more aggressive in nature, but have interestingly averaged 0.1 less fouls per match than Real Sociedad. Some of this could be attributed to the disparity between the refereeing of the two leagues. At Old Trafford, United conceded 19 fouls in comparison to Sociedad's 14, though it should be noted that referee Bas Nijhuis was on a power-trip during the first 45 minutes.
Martínez v Van Persie - Iñigo Martínez had a nightmare start to the game in Manchester as his attempted clearance flew into the net, following Rooney's shot rebounding off the post. Those that have seen Martínez regularly will testify this was very much out of character for the defender, who made his full Spanish debut in August. He didn't have to deal with Van Persie on that occasion, the Dutchman was missing due to a slight niggle. His movement in and around the area will be a big asset to the away side, simultaneously offering an insight into which stage of development Martínez currently sits.
Paul Wilkes is a freelance European football writer specialising in Spanish players and tactics, he is also the Editor of LaLigaUK