Garnacho earns win at Real Sociedad but Manchester United fail to top group

Sport

Squali faliti José Mourinho called them and they await Manchester United.

A first goal for 18-year-old Alejandro Garnacho was enough to defeat Real Sociedad but was not enough to progress as winners of the group, so Erik ten Hag’s team will be thrown into a playoff against one of those “failed sharks” from the Champions League: one of Ajax, Barcelona, Juventus, Leverkusen, Salzburg, Sevilla, Shakhtar or Sporting CP will have to be overcome to continue in this competition.

That may not be too terrifying but it was not the way United wanted it. Two more games in the spring are not what they wanted either. Garnacho’s superb strike after quarter of an hour of his second start had briefly given them hope of avoiding that but United needed another goal.

Although they might have got it when Cristiano Ronaldo ran clean through in the first half only to pass up the best chance and, while Ten Hag pointed to opportunities for Bruno Fernandes and Garnacho, they did not force a save from the Real Sociedad keeper, Álex Remiro.

The excitement of seeing the teenager apart – “I hope Garnacho can keep the attitude that he has now: he can create, he can give the final pass and he can score goals so I am happy with his process,” Ten Hag said – not enough really happened for United, bar a couple of superb passes from Fernandes.

They ended the match with centre-back Harry Maguire up front. The objective was clear; the route there, a little less so.

The good news is that this was still victory and the damage done may yet be relative. “Of course we are disappointed not to win with two goals difference but in the end we won the game, we kept a clean sheet, we create some good chances: there are positives to take back to Manchester,” the manager said afterwards.

Before it Ten Hag had said: “We know what we have to do in the game: score two goals. In the end they could not. Real Sociedad could not score any but they did not always play like a team satisfied simply to protect themselves.”

The opening suggested that the claim of the Real Sociedad manager, Imanol Alguacil, that they, too, would try to score was not misplaced, Pablo Marin firing off the first shot after only 35 seconds and Carlos Fernández hitting the side-netting four minutes later.

Real Sociedad had racked up three times as many attacks. And yet, that may have suited United, who were incisive when they attacked, the space behind both full-backs there to run into – which was how they got their first goal. Fernandes beat Diego Rico to head on, Ronaldo collected and slotted a perfectly weighted pass left for Garnacho. He got beyond Andoni Gorosabel and struck a superb rising shot over Remiro.

It was his first for the club; the confidence of the finish said it will not be the last. There was the confidence of the minutes that followed, too. This was a lively display and he was soon receiving a lovely pass from Fernandes to shoot over.

Real Sociedad kept coming but there was a nervousness about them when United stepped out, which was expressed best when Jon Pacheco swiped at the ball, with Ronaldo just behind him. All alone, the ball sat up, an invitation he never turns down. Ronaldo, though, lifted it over Remiro and over the bar, his lob ending on the roof of the net.

At the other end Marin impressed, somehow kept out by a double David de Gea stop. The first save from the Spanish goalkeeper was superb; the second, from barely a yard, saw him recover fast and throw himself before Marin’s follow-up, the ball hitting his shoulder.

When Luke Shaw slipped, a poor pass from Robert Navarro wasted a three-on-one. The game was getting fractious now, increasingly feeling as if a next goal would win it, yet there were not many clear chances.

Alexander Sørloth twice threatened, Navarro was blocked, the shot total reaching 15-4, and on came Maguire – up front. “Yeah, we needed a goal,” Ten Hag said, but they did not get it.