AZ Alkmaar vs Manchester UnitedUEFA Europa League, KO: 17:55 Oct 3, 2019, Cars Jeans Stadion
MANCHESTER United's 1-1 draw with Arsenal on Monday night condemned Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's side to the club's worst start to a season in 30 years.
Just nine points from a possible 21 is the kind of form that gets managers the sack at Old Trafford. Luckily for Ole he has some respite in the shape of the Europa League. With the lure of a Champions League place up for grabs for the winners, the competition currently looks like their best route to securing a seat at Europe's top table next season.
Soskjaer rung the changes for Astana's visit to Manchester on matchday one and it was 18-year-old Mason Greenwood who grabbed the only goal on a frustrating night for United. It was the Red Devils' 12th match unbeaten in the competition and their eighth clean sheet in that run, so I was pleased to call the win to nil and a goal for Greenwood correctly.
But Thursday's trip to The Hague looks altogether more difficult to predict.
Firstly, AZ's own AFAS Stadium is unavailable following a partial roof collapse in August, so the match will take place almost 50 miles down the road at ADO Den Haag's stadium.
AZ have made a solid start to the season in Eredivisie. Currently third in the table, they're just a point behind Ajax and Feyenoord after taking 19 points from their opening eight games. They have the best defensive record in the league, conceding just three goals to date.
Arne Slot's men escaped Belgrade with a 2-2 draw in their Group L opener, despite being down to 10-men for over an hour; their own 18-year-old striker, Myron Boadu, grabbing the equaliser. AZ are unbeaten in Europe this season (W3 D4), having negotiated three qualifying rounds to take their place in the group stages. Their home record in UEFA Europa League group stage matches is W7 D4 L4.
OGS handed starts to six players under 21 in that home win over Astana but he may well turn to more experienced players at the Cars Jeans Stadion as he goes in search of United's first away win of the season.
As a punter it's hard not to fall in to the trap of thinking that, because this a Man Utd team they simply must be better than AZ. The truth is that United have been terrible at times. Their 4-0 win over Chelsea on the opening day of looks like a high-watermark of the season now. They've failed to score more than one goal in a game in the eight matches since – a slew of missed penalties hasn't helped that stat. Couple that with AZ's defensive record – they've kept a clean sheet in six of their eight Eredivisie matches to date – and we shouldn't be counting on too many goals in this one.
With that in mind Under 2.5 goals at 4/5 is attractive. This would've landed in Man United's last six matches, and in five of AZ last nine. A goal-less first half also pays 4/5 (1.800 on Asian Handicap).
This UEFA Europa League match between AZ Alkmaar and Manchester United will be played on Oct 3, 2019 and kick off at 17:55