Manchester United will be hoping to return to winning ways when they travel to The Cars Jeans Stadion to face AZ Alkmaar in a UEFA Europa League Group L tie.

The 2019-20 UEFA Europa League will continue with Matchday 2 of the Group Stage on Thursday. Manchester United will be in action in one of the early games of the day, taking on AZ Alkmaar at The Cars Jeans Stadion, with a chance to create a headway atop Group L.

AZ Alkmaar have kicked off their 2019-20 campaign on a scintillating note, sitting just a point behind Ajax and PSV Eindhoven in the Eredivisie, despite having a temporary home in the City of Hague. Arne Slot’s men needed three qualifying rounds to reach the Europa League, and have begun the Group Stage on a slow note, as Partizan Belgrade held them to a 2-2 draw on Matchday 1.

Manchester United, on the other hand, have been slow starters this term, with wins being hard to come by – the Red Devils have been victorious after 90 minutes in just two of their last 8 fixtures. As for the Europa League, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer & co. limped their way to a 1-0 win over Astana in their first group game, courtesy of a great finish by rising star Mason Greenwood.

Thursday’s match-up will be the first instance of AZ Alkmaar and Manchester United clashing with each other and ahead of the first meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

AZ Alkmaar

Can Arne Slot oversee a shock win over Manchester United? (Photo by Virginie Lefour/AFP/Getty Images)

Can Arne Slot oversee a shock win over Manchester United? (Photo by Virginie Lefour/AFP/Getty Images)

Jonas Svensson will be the only absentee for AZ Alkmaar when Manchester United pay them a visit on Thursday. The Norwegian full-back was shown a straight red card in the 2-2 draw with Partizan Belgrade and will play no part for the hosts.

In Svennson’s stead, Yukinari Sugawara will line up on the right side of the AZ Alkmaar defence. The rest of the backline will be completed by Ron Vlaar, Stijn Wuytens and Owen Wijndal. Defence has held the key so far this season for the hosts, who will hope to be solid enough to extend the frustrations of Manchester United.

Arne Slot will line his side up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Sugawara and Wijndal having the onus on them to provide the width. The midfield and attacking trios, on the other hand, will look to cramp up the central areas, suffocating Manchester United of space to work with, when on the ball.

Teun Koopmeiners will hold the fort in front of the defence, while Fredrik Midtsjo will be the workhorse in the middle of the park while Jordy Clasie will provide the creative impetus. The three-pronged attack, meanwhile, picks itself.

Myron Boadu will lead the line for AZ Alkmaar, with Calvin Stengs and Oussama Idrissi providing the firepower on either side of the teenage striker. The three forwards have been in fine form at the start of the season and will hope to continue their prolific run against Manchester United.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Bizot; Sugawara, Vlaar, Wuytens, Wijndal; Clasie, Koopmeiners, Midtsjo; Stengs, Boadu, Idrissi

AZ

Manchester United

The injury woes just do not seem to be letting up at all for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Ahead of his side’s second Europa League outing against AZ Alkmaar, the Manchester United boss will be without as many as seven first-team players, with Paul Pogba back on the treatment table.

Pogba has suffered a recurrence of the ankle injury that bothered him for all of September and he is expected to be sidelined for the next couple of weeks at the very least. Anthony Martial also remains unavailable due to a thigh injury that has left him out of action for over a month now.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka gets some more days to recover from tonsillitis, while Manchester United captain Ashley Young is not part of the travelling squad to face AZ Alkmaar. But, the good news is Diogo Dalot is back after recovering from a knock and should slot straight back into the starting lineup.

Axel Tuanzebe should keep hold of his place in the side despite an error that blighted an otherwise strong performance against Arsenal earlier this week. This time around, however, Tuanzebe will be at the heart of the Manchester United defence, with Victor Lindelof being his central defensive partner, thanks in part due to Phil Jones’s absence due to injury.

Marcos Rojo could have accompanied Tuanzebe in the central defensive partnership as well. But, the Argentine is likely to return to the left-back role, with Brandon Williams missing out. Up ahead in midfield, Pogba’s absence will force Solskjaer into a change, with Fred expected to get a chance to impress. Scott McTominay will likely be handed a rest, with Nemanja Matic replacing him.

Meanwhile, the Manchester United boss has confirmed that Juan Mata will start in a bid to guide the youngsters in attack. The Spaniard will be deployed on the right side of the attack, with Angel Gomes starting in the hole, playing off the central striker, who should be Mason Greenwood.

Daniel James should complete the attacking unit, with Tahith Chong taking his place on the bench after featuring in the EFL Trophy against Lincoln City, while Marcus Rashford will be an emergency option. At the other end, Sergio Romero will take his customary place in goal for a Europa League game.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Romero; Dalot, Tuanzebe, Lindelof, Rojo; Matic, Fred; Mata, Gomes, James; Greenwood

Manchester United

Key Stats

  • Thursday’s Europa League fixture will be the first competitive meeting between AZ Alkmaar and Manchester United.
  • AZ Alkmaar have won just two of their 12 matches against English opposition in European competition (D4 L6). However, each of those victories have come on home soil – beating Ipswich Town 4-2 in 1980-81 UEFA Cup final and Newcastle United 2-0 in the 2006-07 UEFA Cup Round of 16.
  • Manchester United are unbeaten in their last five Europa League away games (W3 D2) after losing five in a row prior to this run.
  • In fact, Manchester United’s Matchday one win over Astana means they are now undefeated home and away in 12 UEFA Europa League matches (W9 D3), keeping clean sheets in eight of those.
  • Marcus Rashford has scored in two of his last three away games in European competitions for Manchester United (against Valencia in December 2018 and Paris Saint-Germain in March 2019), as many as he had in his previous 13 combined.

Player to Watch

Mason Greenwood

A star in the making. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

A star in the making. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Goals have been hard to come by for Manchester United in the early days of the season. The troubles have been compounded by Anthony Martial’s untimely injury as well as the fact that Marcus Rashford has been looking out of sorts due to being overworked.

In such a scenario, the presence of Mason Greenwood in the squad comes as a huge blessing for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as he can temper Rashford’s involvement to some extent. Greenwood has netted in each of his starts this season and as he continues growing in confidence, it looks as if the 18-year-old might just pose the biggest threat for Manchester United against AZ Alkmaar.

Prediction

AZ Alkmaar 1-1 Manchester United

Manchester United have been frustratingly goal-shy this term, bar in the season-opening game against Chelsea, which now appears to be a false dawn. AZ Alkmaar, on the other hand, boast one of the most frugal defensive units in all of Europe, meaning we could be in for a tight affair on Thursday.

Manchester United, too, hardly concede any chances, with Axel Tuanzebe starting to become an imposing figure at the back. Mason Greenwood might just prove to be the X-Factor. But, another frustrating night beckons Manchester United, which is why The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-1 draw in their second Europa League fixture.

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