Brandon Williams in action against AZ Alkmaar.

Six talking points: AZ Alkmaar versus United

Manchester United’s UEFA Europa League campaign resumed on Thursday evening, with a tight and cagey away match against the in-form Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. Here are some of the main talking points from the goalless draw in The Hague, Netherlands…

A FULL DEBUT FOR WILLIAMS
After making his senior debut as a substitute in the Carabao Cup win over Rochdale, Brandon Williams went one step further by registering his maiden first-team start and the local lad did really well. He was picked at left-back, looked solid all evening and helped to keep a valuable clean sheet, while also providing a regular overlap for his fellow youth product Angel Gomes up the wing. 

The youngster’s display was a clear highlight from a largely uneventful match and he fully justified his inclusion in the side. He also backed up some pre-match praise from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who said this when asked what he likes about the young prospect:
“Almost everything! He’s got a great mentality and with the injuries we’ve had, it was an easy decision. He’s here on merit.”
Williams made his first start for the United first-team in the Netherlands.
A SELDOM SEEN CENTRE-BACK PAIRING
Victor Lindelof and Marcos Rojo started together in the middle of defence for only the third time in their United careers – their previous outings were against Bristol City in the Carabao Cup and Yeovil Town in the Emirates FA Cup. The selection prompted some fans to wonder if the boss will rotate once again on Sunday, by picking Harry Maguire and Axel Tuanzebe against Newcastle United. 
AN IMPROVED ATMOSPHERE – LITERALLY!
Thursday’s match was held at the Cars Jeans Stadion because AZ Alkmaar’s AFOS Stadium is currently unavailable, due to the roof collapsing back in August. Their temporary home ground is 43 miles away and that seemingly impacted the attendance, with large pockets of empty seats visible in the home sections when the match started. However, the crowd was larger in the second half and that suggests many of the AZ Alkmaar supporters struggled to make the 17:55 BST kick-off on time.

The away end was packed with 950 travelling Reds and many of them had completed the short journey from Manchester via Amsterdam – so they were in a great mood. They sang songs all night and, as ever, paid tribute to United greats, including our Dutch legend Ruud van Nistelrooy. 
The 950 United fans in the away end made plenty of noise on Thursday night.
THE PLASTIC WAS NOT FANTASTIC
Solskjaer used his pre-match press conference to express concerns about the artificial surface and described how the hard ground had the potential to cause damage to his players who are carrying slight injuries. For that reason, he decided not to bring midfielder Paul Pogba on the trip and unfortunately Jesse Lingard was forced to limp off in the final seconds after pulling up holding his hamstring after a run forward.
The Reds did well to handle what was clearly a disappointing artificial pitch.

LOUIS VAN GAAL IN THE STANDS
The match was described as the ‘LVG derby’ in sections of the press, given that the now-retired Dutchman managed both AZ Alkmaar and United in his decorated career as a boss. The 68-year-old was in attendance at the Cars Jeans Stadium, too, sat in the directors' box as a special guest. 

ELSEWHERE IN GROUP L
Partizan Belgrade did well to earn a credible 2-1 away win over FC Astana in Kazakhstan, thanks mainly to a brace from Umar Sadiq. The Serbian club are now top of Group L on four points, thanks to their superior number of goals scored, ahead of hosting United on Thursday 24 October.

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