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Preview: AZ Alkmaar vs. Manchester United - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Manchester United's visit to AZ Alkmaar in Group L of the Europa League, including team news, possible lineups and predictions.

Manchester United travel to the Netherlands for a meeting with AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League on Thursday desperately in need of a confidence boost.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men have only won two of their last 12 league games and are especially struggling away from home, which will add to a feeling of confidence at AZ, who have enjoyed a strong start to the 2019-20 campaign.

Match preview

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pictured on September 30, 2019© Reuters

Much like United, AZ experienced a recent change in manager, with Arne Slot stepping into the role earlier this year having working as assistant boss since 2017.

However, unlike Thursday's opponents they are a team which is, although limited in technical capacity, feeling relatively settled.

Just like in the 2018-19 campaign, during which AZ finished fourth in the Eredivisie, the Dutch side have played with a balanced 4-3-3 system which places emphasis on packing the midfield and giving full-backs plenty of width.

However, despite not much changing, something in recent weeks has clicked in quite emphatic fashion, with AZ winning six of their opening eight games in the Eredivisie to take them one point behind joint leaders and perennial dominators of the division Ajax and Feyenoord.

It serves as a stark contrast to a stuttering finish last season during which they failed to win five of their last eight games and finished the season 28 points behind champions Ajax.

AZ boast the experienced defensive duo of Ron Vlaar, who featured for Aston Villa in the Premier League, and Stijn Wuytens - somebody who has played in the Eredivisie for 11 years - alongside new signing and former Southampton midfielder Jordy Clasie, serving as the backbone of a team whose attack includes exciting youngsters Calvin Stengs and Oussama Idrissi, with the pair scoring eight goals between them so far this term.

This is an AZ team which is experienced in this competition and currently enjoying a good string of form with a squad containing a good balance of young and old, and that combination alone - coupled with a home advantage - puts them in good stead as they prepare to face a team which seems to have no confidence whatsoever.

Jesse Lingard in action for Manchester United on September 25, 2019© Reuters

For United, there does not appear to be any easy solutions to a footballing and structural malaise which has made them an early laughing stock of the 2019-20 campaign - a notion compounded by the sloppiness and sheer dysfunction of their performance during a 1-1 draw with Arsenal at Old Trafford which, despite being largely unwatchable, was actually marginally better than what was on show against either West Ham United or Rochdale over the previous week.

Above all, United strike you as a team which lacks not just a clear tactical blueprint but rather the very idea of what constitutes fast-paced, sophisticated football capable of brushing aside teams like Wolverhampton Wanderers or Crystal Palace, feeding into the notion that the current squad either contains players who are struggling with confidence or simply do not belong at a club of such stature.

The numbers make for truly grim reading, and give an indication of the depth of the mire in which United find themselves: just five wins from their last 18 games; no away wins in seven games, with the last victory coming against Paris Saint-Germain in March.

Moreover, in their last 12 outings, that 4-0 win over Chelsea serves as the only time when United have scored more than once in a game, casting serious questions over the club's decision to dispense with and fail to replace attacking duo Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez over the summer.

Supporters will have to simply trust in the fact that Solskjaer possesses a clear strategy moving forward, because at the moment this feels like a team in total stasis, unsure of where to put its feet.

The game against AZ, more than anything else, presents the United players with a strong chance to gain some badly needed confidence through winning by a two goal margin away from home for the first time since March.

Recent AZ Alkmaar form: WDWWW
Recent Manchester United form: DWWLWD

Team News

Paul Pogba in action for Manchester United on September 25, 2019© Reuters

For the home side, Dani de Wit is the only played sidelined through injury, with the midfielder still recovering from a broken nose.

AZ will also be without key defender Jonas Svensson after he received a straight red card during the club's opening Europa League group game against Partizan Belgrade.

Solskjaer, on the other hand, has something of a selection headache, with Paul Pogba unlikely to be risked after reaggravating his ankle injury against Arsenal, while Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones are all definitely out.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka could recover from a back problem, although he is likely to be rested, and Diogo Dalot should be in line to feature after returning to training over the weekend. Angel Gomes, who impressed against Astana, is also expected to come back into the squad.

AZ Alkmaar possible starting lineup:
Bizot; Rhijn, Vlaar, Wuytens, Wijndal; Clasie, Koopmeiners, Midtso; Stengs, Idrissi, Boadu

Manchester United possible starting lineup:
Romero; Rojo, Tuanzebe, Maguire, Dalot; Matic, Fred; Mata, Lingard, Rashford; Greenwood

Sports Mole Logo

We say: AZ Alkmaar 1-1 Manchester United

Expect United to follow a similar pattern to the one which has plagued them since March - taking the lead and showing moments of promise, only to dissolve soon after half time and concede a sloppy equaliser, piling further pressure on Solskjaer and his players as a result.

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Who will win Thursday's Europa League clash between AZ Alkmaar and Manchester United?

AZ Alkmaar
Manchester United
AZ Alkmaar
Manchester United
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Paul Pogba pictured during Manchester United's Premier League clash with Chelsea on August 11, 2019
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