Manchester United will play their second match in four games on Thursday afternoon as the Red Devils continue their Europa League campaign on the road against AZ Alkmaar.
After slipping down to 10th place in the Premier League, the pressure on United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is really starting to build. He now faces a potentially tough European tie, as United must take on a quality Dutch side who will look to cause a marquee upset on the night.
United come into this game following a 1-1 draw with Arsenal that showed just how far the two clubs have fallen in recent years.
The first half was simply atrocious. Neither team could put any passes together, which meant possession bounced around constantly. Things weren’t any better defensively, as both sides committed errors all over the pitch.
The conditions didn’t help anyone, as rain was pouring down throughout the contest, but that’s certainly not an excuse for the poor play.
The match finally came to life at the stroke of halftime, when Scott McTominay scored an absolute banger. United flew forward on the counter, and the ball eventually found its way to the Scotsman on the edge of the area. He took a touch before unleashing a shot that flew into the top corner, with a little help courtesy of a deflection from Sokratis, of course.
However, the lead would only last about 15 minutes, as Arsenal were able to quickly equalize. It was the result of another defensive miscue, as Axel Tuanzebe gave the ball away in a dangerous area. The Gunners pounced, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finishing on the counter. He was initially ruled offside, but after a VAR check, the goal was correctly given.
The game really opened up late on, but neither team managed to create any clear cut chances. Ultimately, both United and Arsenal were forced to settle for a point when all three could’ve been potentially crucial for either side.
AZ are in much better form, and currently sit in 3rd place in the Eredivisie, only one point behind league leaders Ajax and PSV Eindhoven.
They picked up their third straight league win at the weekend, beating Heracles 2-0 on Sunday afternoon. They did get some luck, as AZ needed a penalty to break the deadlock at the hour mark, with club captain Teun Koopmeiners stepping up and converting from the spot.
The game was put to bed with minutes to go, as 20 year old Calvin Stengs drilled a low shot into the bottom corner to secure all three points for Alkmaar.
In terms of the Europa League, AZ started their campaign with a solid point on the road against Partizan Belgrade, which was made especially impressive considering they played with only ten men for an hour after Jonas Svensson was sent off in the 30th minute.
Last time out
This will be the first time these two sides have faced off.
United have had success against Dutch teams in the Europa League before, as they beat Ajax in the 2017 final to claim the trophy.
For AZ, their last match against English opposition came in 2009, when they were smashed 4-1 by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
Solskjaer confirmed that forward Anthony Martial will be unavailable for selection on Thursday, as the Frenchman is yet to recover from his hamstring injury.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka missed the match against Arsenal due to a case of tonsillitis, and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to return in time to face AZ. Paul Pogba did play the full 90 versus the Gunners, but he’s still being hampered by an ankle injury, and might be rested. Phil Jones is also out after picking up a knock in the Carabao Cup tie against Rochdale.
There is some good news for the Red Devils, as Angel Gomes and Diogo Dalot should be back in the team to take on AZ after missing out on the last two games.
Alkmaar will only be without the aforementioned Svensson, who is serving a suspension after seeing red against Partizan.
AZ Alkmaar: Bizot, Vlaar, Hatzidiakos, Wuytens, Wijndal, Midtsjo, Clasie, Koopmeiners, Stengs, Boadu, Idrissi
Manchester United: Romero, Dalot, Tuanzebe, Rojo, Young, Pereira, Matic, Fred, Chong, Greenwood, Gomes
What to watch for
Can Greenwood make it three in three?
All eyes are set to be on Mason Greenwood once again come Thursday afternoon.
Only turning 18 years old moments after the match against Arsenal, he hasn’t gotten many chances in the Premier League, forced to settle for brief cameos off the bench.
That hasn’t been the case in other competitions, however, as Greenwood has started and scored in both the Europa League and the Carabao Cup already. He’s likely to get lead the line once again versus AZ, with many hoping he’ll be able to continue his scoring streak.
The Red Devils certainly need him at this point. Greenwood has been one of United’s most dangerous players this season, and is tied for 2nd when it comes to goals scored on the campaign. With injuries to both Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, even more pressure has been put on the youngster to perform.
Greenwood has been the man for the occasion so far this year, and another goal on Thursday would only further prove that he's ready to start in more marquee games.