Manchester United could grab control of Europa League Group L with a win on Thursday night at AZ Alkmaar. Here’s everything that you need to know ahead of the match.
(1) With Manchester United facing a 300-mile trip to Holland this week, the Premier League did them little favor by scheduling the Arsenal match for Monday evening. In a typical Mancunian downpour, the longtime rivals labored to a 1-1 draw that leaves each side somewhat dissatisfied. Scott McTominay opened the scoring with a rising belter just before halftime, only for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to equalize (with a little help from an errant offside flag) in the second half. United now sit tenth, wedged humbly between heavyweights Crystal Palace and Burnley.
(2) At least the Group L table makes for happier reading, with United top after last month’s nervy 1-0 win over FC Astana. AZ Alkmaar drew 2-2 at Partizan Belgrade in their opener — and must count themselves lucky for that result. AZ played a man down for more than an hour, as the hosts outshot them 20-4 and held over 60% possession. On talent alone, United should have little trouble outpacing the rest of this group.
(3) Of course, nothing comes easily to United on the road these days. The Reds haven’t won away from Old Trafford since that epic Paris Saint-Germain comeback last March. For those counting, that’s more than six months ago. It’s all rather hard to explain, especially for a side that prides itself on a quick counterattack and invested heavily in defense. That’s usually a recipe for road results.
Manchester United upcoming fixtures:— ™ (@TheFergusonCode) September 30, 2019
6 out of the next 7 games are away.
(4) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer surprised everyone by naming Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford to the starting eleven on Monday. Pogba seemed doubtful after aggravating his ankle in last week’s Rochdale win, while most thought Rashford out until the international break. With his team struggling for goals, Ole was glad to have another first-choice attacker back:
Marcus makes defenders fear him with his pace.
(5) That being said, it’s hard to believe that Solskjaer will risk either on Thursday — especially considering the match will be played on artificial turf. After an August roof collapse at AZ’s home field, all matches have been moved to Cars Jeans Stadium and its plastic pitch. Buckle up for what could be an interesting game on a very unfamiliar surface.
(6) Tonsillitis continues to ravage the United squad. The illness forced Mason Greenwood out of last month’s West Ham loss and, now, caused Aaron Wan-Bissaka to miss Monday’s match. Axel Tuanzebe mostly played well in his absence, although his poor pass directly led to Aubameyang’s equalizer. Still, an encouraging performance for the youngster.
(7) Ole hopes AWB will return for Thursday, but he’s already ruled out Anthony Martial. “Definitely not Thursday,” the boss said after the Arsenal draw. ManUtd.com also reports that Phil Jones will miss the AZ trip, while Diogo Dalot and Angel Gomes are questionable.
(8) Arne Slot took over at AZ when John van den Brom moved to Utrecht this summer. The Cheeseheads (yep, that’s their name) are off to a great start under their new boss, sitting third in the Eredivisie with 19 points through 8 matches. That leaves them just a single point behind Ajax and PSV at the top.
(9) United won’t find it easy to break down Slot’s side, which has posted three consecutive clean sheets. If birthday boy Mason Greenwood starts, he’ll need to watch out for Ron Vlaar (formerly of Aston Villa) in AZ’s defense. And, even after switching stadiums, AZ maintain a strong home-field advantage with only one loss in their last 14 home league matches.
(10) Despite the sparkling defensive record, AZ also boast plenty of young talent in attack. 21-year-old Teun Koopmeiners chips in with goals from defensive midfield, too.
Feyenoord Rotterdam 0-3 AZ Alkmaar:— Scouted Football (@ScoutedFtbl) September 26, 2019
⚽ 39th min: Myron Boadu (18) scores
⚽ 50th min: Calvin Stengs (20) scores
⚽ 83rd min: Oussama Idrissi (23) scores
That dynamic front three destroys again. pic.twitter.com/zbqpH87BZc
(11) A few AZ-Manchester United connections: Sergio Romero, who will likely start in goal on Thursday, played for the Dutch club from 2007 to 2011. His manager there, at least at the start, was none other than Louis Van Gaal. After winning the 2008/09 Eredivisie, LVG leapt at the chance to take over at Bayern Munich.
Louis van Gaal derby for Manchester United being drawn with AZ. It’s about the only real thing of note for United from that draw, other than monumental amounts of travel.— Chris Winterburn (@cmwinterburn) August 30, 2019