Last week’s 4-0 away win on neutral territory in Turin meant that this return leg against Real Sociedad was little more than a box-ticking exercise. The goalless draw which it produced will not live long in the memory.
It was not an entirely uneventful evening. Mikel Oryazabal could have made things much more interesting but missed an early penalty for la Real, while Axel Tuanzebe was later denied his first United goal by VAR midway through the second half.
Yet the only ones inside Old Trafford to look back on this night with any fondness will be two teenagers. The highly-rated Amad made his Old Trafford debut, while Shola Shoretire became United’s youngest-ever player in European competition.
Otherwise, this was a case of job done and move on quickly. Arsenal, Tottenham and Rangers are among those potentially waiting in the next round, as are Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s former club Molde.
Whatever the tie, it will hopefully prove more competitive than this.
Despite a run of three away days in the league starting at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and ending in the Manchester derby, Bruno Fernandes started and captained the side with United’s other ever-present Harry Maguire rested.
Solskjaer’s reasoning was that Fernandes’ presence would help guard against the complacency that can creep in when leading 4-0 at half-time in a knock-out tie. If that was the plan, it didn’t work.
A slow, lethargic United start led to a la Real penalty with Daniel James bringing Andoni Gorosabel down after 12 minutes.
Oryazabal, la Real’s captain, had not missed a single one of his 18 career penalties up to that point, though you wouldn’t know that from this particular attempt. High and wide of Dean Henderson’s left-hand post, the ball almost escaped down an exit and onto the Stretford End concourse.
It was a let-off and a warning that United largely heeded. Fernandes soon smacked the crossbar from distance after Fred kept a flowing attack alive with a deft cut-back. James then forced la Real goalkeeper Alejandro Remiro into a fine save with a header at close range from a Fernandes lofted pass.
This was, nevertheless, tedious fare. United were not exactly eager to over-exert themselves, while la Real leaving David Silva and Asier Illarramendi at home to rest for a meeting with Real Madrid this weekend said it all. Oryazabal’s penalty aside, Fred’s refusal to walk over to referee Lawrence Visser to receive a yellow card was probably the highlight of the first half.
There were five substitutions made between the two sides at the break, in another indication that this was now becoming a non-event.
Marcus Rashford was the most surprising introduction - replacing Fernandes - but he at least went close with a free-kick which was struck low and dipped narrowly wide of Remiro’s left-hand post. La Real responded through Modibo Sagnan, whose header hit the same spot on the crossbar which Fernandes had previously found.
Perhaps an Old Trafford debut would liven things up further. Amad was introduced for the final half hour but it was another substitute who soon had the ball in the back of the net, with Tuanzebe powering in Alex Telles’ corner.
Tuanzebe’s team-mates had already congratulated him on the first senior goal of his career and made their way back for the restart when Visser decided to take another look on his pitch-side monitor.
There, he saw that a monumental leap by Victor Lindelof had ended with the United centre-back inadvertently kneeing Jon Bautista in the face. The goal would not stand and neither side would trouble either goalkeeper again. A forgettable night but United are comfortably through.
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