Manchester United vs AZ AlkmaarUEFA Europa League, KO: 20:00 Dec 12, 2019, Old Trafford
THE mood music has changed at Old Trafford on the back of two massive wins and Manchester United can now keep the feelgood factor going by beating AZ Alkmaar to top their Europa League group.
There was talk of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer clinging to his job by his fingertips ahead of Jose Mourinho's return to the Theatre of Dreams with new club Tottenham.
I tipped the draw that night but his United side claimed a deserved 2-1 win and followed that up with an even better result, all but ending the title hopes of Manchester City with another 2-1 victory at the Etihad.
The winter of discontent has now given way to the prospect of a very Merry Christmas, with United up to fifth in the table, just five points off a Champions League place.
Solskjaer's side have already qualified for the Europa League last 32 but top spot in Group L is up for grabs. United are a point ahead of Alkmaar heading into the final game so even a draw would be enough to stay top and guarantee an easier game in the knockout rounds.
How the bookies view it
United are odds-on favourites for this one, at a best 10/11 with Blacktype. But Solskjaer has used the Europa League for experimentation, fielding a team of teenagers last time out against Astana.
That backfired as the Kazakhs claimed a 2-1 win, justifying my faith in backing Astana at rather generous odds for a game against what was effectively a youth side.
I don't think Solskjaer will do the same here so expect a few of his main men to play as United bid to keep their impressive run of form going.
The Dutch side are as big as 57/17 with SportPesa and that price might attract a few punters while the draw is 71/25 with Marathonbet.
A lot will depend on what kind of team both sides field so it's probably best to wait until you see the line-ups before having a bet on the outcome.
Recent head to head
The 0-0 draw earlier in the group (below) is the only previous meeting between these sides in European competition, a match which brought up both of our man Selectabet's tips that night.
United have won their last two games to send morale soaring but were in poor form before that, drawing two and losing one of their four previous matches.
Alkmaar have been far more consistent, winning eight and drawing one of their last nine matches. They warmed up for Old Trafford by winning 3-0 at Zwolle in the Dutch league.
Thriller of chiller?
There was little in the way of entertainment earlier in the season from United, with that stalemate in Alkmaar one of countless games where they failed to click up front.
But Solskjaer's side have rediscovered their mojo, scoring two or more in six of their last seven games. Their last blank came in early November when they lost 1-0 at Bournemouth.
Alkmaar have scored in every game since that stalemate with United at home. They have netted 15 times in Group L so it bodes well for an open game here.
Both teams to score is 4/5 with SportNation and that looks a good option while over 2.5 goals also appeals at 10/11 with Marathonbet.
Players to watch
Jesse Lingard was the only senior outfield player to start in Astana and he grabbed United's goal that night.
I fancied him for another here but an injury in the Manchester derby is set to rule him out.
Instead try Juan Mata at 4/1 with Bet365 as the Spaniard could get a rare outing.
AZ's Myron Boadu has netted four times in Group L but is suspended for this one after being sent off in the 2-2 draw with Partizan last time out.
Oussama Idrissi netted twice in the weekend win over Zwolle and should start here with Boadu out. The Morrocan is 7/2 with Paddy Power for a goal here and that catches the eye.
This UEFA Europa League match between Manchester United and AZ Alkmaar will be played on Dec 12, 2019 and kick off at 20:00