United v AZ Alkmaar: A guide to the opposition
Manchester United play host to AZ Alkmaar at Old Trafford on Thursday night, in our sixth and final Europa League group phase match.
The Reds are already through to the last 32 and a draw or better would be enough to secure top spot and a place among the seeds in the next round.
The visitors, however, will have plenty to say about that, having averaged three goals per game in the competition proper so far. Here’s a quick guide to Thursday’s opposition...
The visitors will be missing star attacker Myron Boadu, after the teenager was sent off for two bookable offences during AZ’s thrilling 2-2 draw at home to Partizan Belgrade on matchday five. Pantelis Hatzidiakos, the 21-year-old centre-back, is a long-term absentee, after picking up a cruciate ligament injury in that same game. He could be out for the remainder of the season.
AZ have been unable to play at their home ground since the opening game of the season, due to a partial roof collapse at their AFAS Stadion. However, this hasn’t affected the Cheeseheads too much – with 16 games of the Eredivisie season gone, they sit in second place, three points behind champions Ajax. Arne Slot’s side boast the best defensive record in the league, having conceded just eight goals so far, although their biggest test of the season comes just three days after their trip to Old Trafford, when they will host Ajax at the Cars Jeans Stadion, their temporary home in the Hague.
Alkmaar are one of only seven sides who can boast an unbeaten record in the 2019/20 Europa League group stages, and they are also the leading goalscorers in the competition proper, having scored 15 goals in their five games. Eleven of those came against already-eliminated Astana, although a set of 2-2 draws against Partizan Belgrade mean AZ come to Manchester needing a win to secure top spot in Group L.
THE REVERSE FIXTURE
The 0-0 draw in the Hague in October marked the first-ever meeting between the two sides in a competitive game. AZ had the better of the stalemate, with David De Gea forced into making two good saves from Oussama Idrissi, although Marcus Rashford was denied a penalty late on after appearing to be brought down by Stijn Wuytens. The match was notable for Brandon Williams making his full senior debut, while teenagers Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood also featured from the start.
Arne Slot is enjoying a good start to his debut season as a first-team manager. The 41-year-old former NAC Breda, Sparta Rotterdam and PEC Zwolle midfielder took over from John van den Brom in the summer after two years as assistant and has lost just two of his 27 matches in charge so far. He has an unbeaten record in European competition, with AZ having come through six qualifiers and five Group L games unscathed under his tutelage.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The most familiar name in the AZ line-up, to English football fans at least, will be Ron Vlaar. The veteran centre-half turned out for Aston Villa between 2012 and 2015 and was a key member of the Netherlands’ side which reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2014 under ex-United boss Louis van Gaal. Also in that squad was Jordy Clasie, who moved to AZ in the summer after four years with Southampton. However, AZ’s standout performers this season have been the exciting attacking trio of Idrissi, Calvin Stengs and the banned Boadu. The triumvirate have contributed 37 goals between them in all competitions and Stengs and Boadu have recently been called up to the senior Netherlands side for the first time. AZ captain Teun Koopmeiners, who has struck 10 times from midfield, will also be knocking on Ronald Koeman’s door for the national team.
Reading this in our app? If not, you might miss some exclusive features not found on ManUtd.com. Download the Official App here.