Well, unfortunately, the Champions League nights aren’t returning to Manchester United. Old Trafford instead hosts the UEFA Europa League on Thursday nights, often termed as the “second-tier” of European competitions. To make things worse, they’ve been put in Group L. You know the saying, when it rains, it pours. It’s only pouring bad luck for United right now.
However, I think Europa is a blessing in disguise for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It’s effectively a direct participation ticket to the Champions League if you win it. The Red Devils last won the competition in 2017, which is incidentally also their last trophy won.
OGS has reiterated he’ll focus on giving more youngsters chances in the Europa and that can be granted timely with their relatively comfortable group. Lets deep dive into their opponents!
FC Astana 2019-20 UEFA Europa League preview
Last Season: Eliminated in group stages
Stadium: Astana Stadium, Nur-Sultan.
Nickname: The Blue and Yellows
Manager: Roman Hryhorchuk
Key Additions: Doran Rotariu, Laszlo Klenheisler
Best Player: Marin Tomasov
Odds to Win Europa League: +10000 (FanDuel Sportsbook)
Astana, for me, will be the most unpredictable threat to Manchester United, especially considering they need to travel 3,714 miles just to make the trip to Kazakhstan. The reigning Kazakhstan champions didn’t lose a single home game in the league last season, proving them a hard nut to crack at home.
They’ll definitely make things uncomfortable for United with a hostile environment. Their playing field isn’t to manage for big stars either. After having barely failed to progress into the Europa League knockout stages last season, they’ll be firing on all cylinders to go past that hurdle.
A Bit of Astana history
- They’re only 10 years old, having formed in 2009!
- Astana have won the Kazakhstan Premier League five times consecutively in recent years.
- They were initially found as Lokomotiv Astana, before changing their names in 2011.
- They’ve also won the Kazaksthan Cup on three occasions.
FC Astana overlook:
FC Astana has risen exponentially as Kazaksthan’s top club over the last decade.
They operate as a spirited attacking side, using their physical strengths to their advantage. With some promising attacking players like top-scorer Marin Tomasov, skillfull Doran Rotariu as well as the formidable Roman Murtazayev, they’re clearly a side not to be taken lightly.
United should manage to overpower them mainly due to their sheer strength in numbers, but the game at Nur-Sultan would be a challenging test of will-power and also one where OGS’ must handle his players accordingly to avoid any injuries.
FK Partizan 2019-20 UEFA Europa League preview
Last Season: Eliminated in play-off round
Stadium: Partizan Stadium, Belgrade
Nickname: The Black-Whites
Manager: Savo Milosevic
Key Additions: Takuma Asano, Peter Gigic, Umar Sadiq
Best Player: Zoran Tosic
Odds to Win Europa League: +10000 (FanDuel Sportsbook)
This is a sweet homecoming for United’s experience midfielder Nemanja Matic, who spent a year at FK Partizan during his youth days. However, nobody else than him will get a rousing reception in the intimidating city of Belgrade.
While Partizan aren’t the strongest side from the Serbian capital, they possess that fighting spirit which enabled their qualification into the Europa League this season. If United do take them lightly, I think some troubles can be expected.
A Bit of FK Partizan history:
- Partizan have won the Serbian SuperLiga eight times. Before that, they had won the Yugoslav First League on 11 occasions.
- They’ve also won the Serbian Cup 7 times, along with the Yugoslav Cup on 5 occasions.
- Their best European finish was in the 1965/66 season, when they came runners-up in the European Cup(now UEFA Champions League).
- They were the first Serbian club to take part in the UEFA Champions League group stages in 2003.
FK Partizan outlook:
FK Partizan hopes to replicate their predecessor’s magic onto reigning the battle against Manchester United.
Way back in 1966/67 season, the Black-Whites defeated Matt Busby’s United side 2-0 in the European Cup(Champions League).
Zoran Tosic, a former United player, aims to make them regret mistreating him a decade back. He’s a sparky, electric little player with a real creative eye for creating as well as scoring goals. Former Arsenal man Takuma Asano’s also a fiery little winger who, for me, could expose Luke Shaw’s vulnerabilities.
They also boast a tricky forward-line which will cause United’s wonky backline some problems. Matic should have a sweet homecoming, but Ole must play his cards correctly to dominate Partizan.
AZ Alkmaar 2019-20 UEFA Europa League preview
Last Season: Eliminated in Europa League 2nd qualifying round
Stadium: AFAS Stadion
Manager: Arne Slot
Key Additions: Jordy Clasie, Dani De Wit, Zakaria Abdouklal
Best Player: Oussama Idrissi
Odds to Win Europa League: +25000 (DraftKings Sportsbook NJ)
AZ Alkmaar, for me, are probably the strongest opponents for United in this group as they play in the competitive Eredivisie. Of course, expect no Ajax-like fairy-tale, but they have enough quality to cause their opponents all sorts of problems throughout the group stages.
Boasting some promising Dutch youngsters and experienced different national team stars, they possess the pedigree to put up a resounding fight to United. Ole probably has them pin-pointed as their biggest threat in Group L. He wouldn’t be entirely wrong for assuming so.
A Bit of AK Alkmaar history
- They’ve won the Eredivisie on two occasions.
- Alkmaar have also won the KNBV Cup four times in their history
- They’ve also won the Johan Cruyff Shield once in 2009.
- Alkmaar’s best UEFA Cup(Europa League’s predecessor) finish was in the 1980-81 season, when they finished as runners-up.
AZ Alkmaar outlook:
AK Alkmaar don’t boast the consistency of Champions League-dwellers Ajax or PSV Eindhoven, but have been the hub of promoting talented players in recent years.
Incidentally, United’s #2 Sergio Romero earned the spotlight at AZ. Considering he’ll be playing most of the Europa League games, he’ll also make a homecoming to the Dutch club. However, Alkmaar are quite the tough nut to crack.
They defend deep as in a narrow formation, something which United have struggled against this season. Moreover, their young forward line is packed with pace, skill and that lethality capable of troubling any backline.
United, for me, needs to play their biggest stars to unlock their rigid defence and tone down their youthful exuberance in the attack. Only relying upon his own youth to push aside the Cheeseheads could, I think, backfire badly on Ole.