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.
Bring on the league toppers!
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