Manchester United face a tough test in the Netherlands, and Kevin Hatchard believes defences will be under pressure...
"AZ play exciting attacking football, with three young stars spearheading the charge. This should be a game that features plenty of scoring chances."
AZ Alkmaar v Manchester United
Thursday 3 October, 17:55
Live on BT Sport 2
Attack-minded Alkmaar have caught the eye
It's been a long time since AZ Alkmaar reached the final of the UEFA Cup, only to fall short against Sir Bobby Robson's Ipswich Town. Domestic glory has been achieved since that dramatic tussle in 1981 - Louis van Gaal led the club to an extraordinary title triumph in 2009 - but now there is a chance to make an impact once again on the continental stage.
AZ finished fourth in the Eredivisie last season, but then boss John van den Brom made the move to Utrecht. Any concerns over that defection have been swiftly dispelled, as assistant coach Arne Slot has stepped up superbly. AZ are playing an exciting brand of football, with young attacking stars coming to the fore.
Twenty-year-old Calvin Stengs has recovered from serious injury to become an important part of the side, sparkling on the wing with a potent mix of speed and technique. He has helped fill the void left by Alireza Jahanbaksh, who moved to Brighton last season. Stengs is supported in an attacking trident by 18-year-old Myron Boadu, who has rattled in four goals in eight league games, while the senior partner is 23-year-old Moroccan Oussama Idrissi (six goals in eight Eredivisie appearances.)
AZ are third in the Eredivisie table, which is hugely impressive when you consider that every match they are playing at the moment is an away game. Part of their main stand at he AFAS Stadion collapsed earlier this year in high winds (thankfully no fans were there at the time), so they are playing home games in Den Haag. They are unbeaten at home this term.
United can use UEL to dispel domestic gloom
Monday's rather wretched 1-1 draw with Arsenal left Manchester United a lowly tenth in the Premier League standings, three points adrift of the Champions League qualification spots. The questions about the long-term suitability of coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer refuse to go away, and the Red Devils seem further away from winning the Premier League title than at any stage since Sir Alex Ferguson left the top job.
Solskjaer's main currency is the development of youth, and while he can convince fans and superiors that he can bring through the next generation, then he has a case to stay in situ. However, fielding those youngsters has led to some shaky displays. A limited Astana team was only beaten 1-0 on Matchday One, and League One outfit Rochdale were only knocked out of the League Cup by virtue of a penalty shoot-out.
Phil Jones is likely to miss the Alkmaar game with injury, Aaron Wan-Bissaka is struggling with tonsillitis, while the game probably comes too soon for Anthony Martial.
AZ could take advantage of weakened United
Solskjaer is likely to rest key players ahead of the weekend's Premier League trip to Newcastle, and this is a much bigger occasion for AZ than it is for the English giants. AZ recently shredded Feyenoord 3-0, and they picked up a decent 2-2 draw at Partizan Belgrade on Matchday One.
United were unconvincing against Astana, and they haven't won an away game since that famous Champions League win at PSG in March, so I think the play here is to back AZ Draw No Bet at [2.18].
AZ to fight fire with fire
Manchester United are likely to have impressive 18-year-old Mason Greenwood leading their attack, while AZ will deploy their attacking trio. The Dutch club have smashed in 17 goals in the last seven matches in all competitions, and I can't imagine Arne Slot will pull up the handbrake here.
You can back Over 2.5 Goals at [1.92], or Both Teams To Score at [1.73].
Back Over 2.5 Goals at [1.92]