Manchester United caused a minor stir on Monday night by arriving here and asking to leapfrog the home side’s press conference, which was scheduled to take place first. It was subsequently put to Real Sociedad’s manager that they were behaving like jefes de Europa “chiefs of Europe”. Even Attila the Hun was mentioned.
Jagoba Arrasate, a serious man and the Real coach, brushed off that idea, though he said that the Basque club – whose recent revival in La Liga mirrors United’s in the Premier League – could give David Moyes’ side a susto, a scare inflicted by an underdog in the local vernacular. United will not fret. Their new-found domestic resilience has given Moyes a fresh breeziness. He grinned a lot last night and was almost garrulous by recent standards on the subject of 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj needing protection from brutal challenges. Moyes also revealed that he is in no hurry to collect pearls of wisdom from Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography. Though pictured with it at Manchester Airport early in the day, he declared: “I’ve not read it yet. I’ve not opened a page yet.”
United will be virtually through to the knockout stage of the Champions League if they win tonight, reaching the golden 10-point target which Ferguson so often spoke of if they do. Though Basque territory has never been fruitful – two defeats to Athletic Bilbao is what they have had to show across the years – continental competition has been smoother so far than domestic contests for Moyes. The Scot’s only concern was Januzaj. He spoke as the Football Association announced it had charged Fulham’s Sascha Riether with violent misconduct following his ugly challenge on the teenager during United’s 3-1 win at Craven Cottage on Saturday. Riether is the first player to have been charged retrospectively under a new FA pilot project for potential “not seen” incidents in Premier League matches.
The United manager compared Januzaj to Lionel Messi in his ability to pick himself up from illegal challenges and continue to perform. And though he saw the headlines running away with him and qualified himself – “I’m not in any way comparing Adnan to Lionel Messi so don’t be saying that,” he hastily added – Moyes does see the Argentine’s temperament in the young winger. “I’m certainly saying [he mirrors] the way Lionel Messi gets up after being kicked. We hope that’s the way Adnan continues to behave too. But he does need a little bit of protection.” Riether’s challenge was “a bad stamp,” Moyes said. “And it does look deliberate. We [don’t want to] find he is getting kicked up and down. I do think he deserves a little bit more than he is getting at this time.”
Arrasate admitted his side are in a lower stratosphere to United – “It’s difficult to compare our teams. You have to look at our budget. The objectives of the teams are very different,” he said – and Real are already 17 points off the top of La Liga. But they have scored 10 goals in three games since they lost narrowly at Old Trafford two weeks ago. The atmosphere can be as intense at the Anoeta as the rain storm which greeted United and persisted throughout most of afternoon, while the Spaniards’ prime incentive is the fact that defeat will mean the end of their Champions League hopes. “Many of our fans who went to Old Trafford spent a lot of money doing it,” Arrasate said. “Some are going through financial difficulties but they still went. Hopefully, now we can win and dedicate the win to our fans.”
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