The Man United starting XI against Astana.

Early team news: United v AZ Alkmaar at Old Trafford

Manchester United will return to action on Thursday night when AZ Alkmaar visit Old Trafford in the UEFA Europa League, with the top spot in Group L up for grabs between the two sides.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Reds require just a point to secure first place in the pool, which would mean we are seeded in next Monday’s draw for the round of 32.

Our visitors from the Netherlands, AZ, need a win to secure first place and that eventuality would pit United against a first-placed opponent in the draw, or one of the four sides that has been eliminated from the Champions League with the most points.

As such, it will be fascinating to see how Ole approaches the tie.

For the away match against Astana on matchday five, the boss used the opportunity to rotate his squad by naming a youthful starting XI that had an average age of 22 years and 26 days. It was the youngest the club has ever named for a match in major European competition (excluding qualifiers).

That starting line-up in Kazakhstan consisted of Lee Grant, Ethan Laird, Axel Tuanzebe, Di’Shon Bernard, Luke Shaw, James Garner, Dylan Levitt, Tahith Chong, Jesse Lingard, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood.

So will he go with youth again, or opt for a strong XI? Let's consider his options…

Highlights: Astana 2 United 1Video

THE LATEST UPDATE ON INJURIES

In our exclusive interview to preview Saturday’s Manchester derby, Solskjaer gave this update on long-term absentees Eric Bailly, Diogo Dalot, Tim Fosu-Mensah, Marcos Rojo and Nemanja Matic.

“We are getting them back and, say, in 2020 we will have a strong and fit squad, definitely,”
the manager told us.
“They are working hard to get back and they want to be part of this.”


Ole also stated that Paul Pogba
“is on the grass and training”
, but it remains to be seen when the France international will be fit enough to make his return to action. 

Watch the manager’s pre-match press conference at 10:00 GMT on Wednesday, via MUTV and our Official App, for the latest news and views from the boss. 
POTENTIAL CLUES ON MONDAY NIGHT

Brandon Williams and Greenwood were not included in the Under-23s squad that recorded an excellent 3-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion in Premier League 2 Division Two on Monday night, which suggests they might be in line to feature against AZ Alkmaar on Thursday evening. 

Fellow youth players Gomes and Chong both played full matches against the Baggies, while Garner started the game but was substituted after 64 minutes at Leigh Sports Village.

Neil Wood's starting XI consisted of Matej Kovar, Laird, Max Taylor, Bernard, Teden Mengi, Garner, Gomes, Ethan Galbraith, Chong, D’Mani Mellor and Largie Ramazani. 

Watch the highlights of the win below...

U23 Highlights: United 3 West Brom 1Video

FOCUS ON THE OPPOSITION

AZ Alkmaar will definitely be without their top scorer in this season's competition, Myron Boadu, who cannot build on his tally of six goals in 11 Europa League appearances due to suspension. Regardless, head coach Arne Slot says his side are coming to win on Thursday night. 

“We want to win the group,” he said. “We want to win every game. There's a lot of talk about the fact we're playing a lot of matches, that we get tired because of it. I actually think the opposite is true: because we're playing so many games, we have become incredibly strong physically, and that's an advantage.”

The 1980/81 UEFA Cup runners-up are unbeaten in 11 European games this season, winning five, drawing six and keeping seven clean sheets. However, they have earned just two wins on their travels in their last 11 continental fixtures outside of the qualifying phase, drawing four and losing five.

Those victories were 1-0 against Dundalk in Dublin three seasons ago and 5-0 in Astana last time out, the club's biggest ever European away win.

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