Weblog: The football punter

Red Devils worth a wager to pass tricky AZ test 

BT Sport 2, 5.55pm Thursday

These are testing times for Manchester United and their manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but he can survive his examination in The Hague when AZ Alkmaar host the fallen giants in the Europa League.

This could be a tricky test for United, who have left a stack of experienced players behind, and must play on an artificial pitch which has been given a surface rating of 1.91 out of five. That isn't the worst in the Eredivisie but it's not far off.

However, even with United struggling for victories their weakened squad should be good enough to beat AZ, who are having to play this match at ADO Den Haag's stadium due to a damaged roof at their home in Alkmaar.

United were easy enough winners against Astana on matchday one with young teenage forward Mason Greenwood on target, as he was in their League Cup shootout success over third-tier Rochdale.

Solskjaer's side had seven shots on target to Astana's none and forced 13 corners to the visitors' one. They also hit the woodwork twice, missed five big chances and dominated most of the game - as they should in every match in this group, which also includes Partizan Belgrade.

AZ will have been delighted with their point in a 2-2 draw in Belgrade two weeks ago, particularly after an early red card to Jonas Svensson reduced the Dutch outfit to ten men.

There is some hype surrounding Calvin Stengs and 17-year-old striker Myron Boadu hit the net in last week's eye-catching 3-0 success away to Feyenoord in their best performance of the season.

But AZ have not played either of the big two of Ajax and PSV this season and their only fixture against a current top-four outfit resulted in a 2-1 reverse at Vitesse.

AZ did not have it easy in any of their Europa qualifying triumphs over Hacken, Mariupol and Antwerp, drawing the first leg in all three and needing a dramatic turnaround in Belgium to reach the group phase.

United are struggling, which means Solskjaer needs victories and a squad containing players such as Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Nemanja Matic, Fred, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford really should be good enough to obtain a positive result.

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Match in Focus


Sheff Utd v Arsenal

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Arsenal have won five of their last six matches
Expert verdict
Some Arsenal supporters are not happy with Unai Emery’s tactics but the Gunners are third in the Premier League after eight matches and can maintain their upward trajectory by beating Sheffield United. The visitors have lost only one match in all competitions this season and should continue to improve with Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney both fit again after injury. They haven’t always been brilliant but Arsenal tend to get the job done. Sheffield United held firm for 70 minutes against Liverpool and have proved hard to break down, but they have lost four of their last five home matches in all competitions.