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UEFA Europa League foes have been decided. Just how rocky is the road ahead for Manchester United?

Manchester United have been drawn in Group L of the 2019/20 UEFA Europa League, along with Kazakhstani side FC AstanaSerbian outfit FK Partizan, as well as Dutch team AZ Alkmaar. United are the seeded team in this group and will be looking to secure top spot. The last time the club played in the group stages of the tournament, they went all the way to the final, defeating AFC Ajax 2-0 to claim their maiden Europa League title.

That was the climax of a long and arduous European campaign for the Red Devils, who had to endure trips to Turkey and Ukraine during the group stages, as well as Russia during the knockout stages. With their group stage fixtures for 2019/20 decided, let’s take a closer look at when and where these games are placed on United’s calendar for the remainder of 2019.

FC Astana, Old Trafford, Manchester – Thursday 19 September 2019

United will begin their European campaign at home later this month when they face reigning Kazakhstani champions FC Astana for the first time in the club’s history. This game will take place after the Red Devils face Leicester City at Old Trafford on the 14 September and will precede a trip to the London Stadium to take on West Ham United on the 22 September.

United will face Leicester having not won a game since their opening match of the Premier League, and will no doubt want to get back to winning ways before embarking on their European journey and then going to face West Ham, where they were soundly beaten last season. If United are to progress to the knockout stages, it will imperative for them to get the first three points on offer, particularly as it will be at home to a team that was only founded a decade ago.

AZ Alkmaar, AFAS Stadium, Alkmaar, Thursday 3 October 2019

The second game of United’s European campaign sees them make a relatively short journey to the Netherlands to face AZ for the first time. This game will come after United take on rivals Arsenal at Old Trafford on Monday 30 September, in a game that is likely to be draining for both sets of players, who will then have to play again on Thursday evening.

This could mean that United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will opt to rotate his squad and field those who haven’t seen much action so far this season against the Dutch side. The Red Devils have lost on their last two visits to the Netherlands, to PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord Rotterdam respectively.

They will no doubt be looking to correct this before they make another relatively short trip, this time to face Newcastle United in the Premier League, a game that is always tougher than it looks on paper. This will be the first of a few testing weeks for a young and somewhat threadbare United squad.

FK Partizan, Partizan Stadium, Belgrade – Thursday 24 October 2019

This Europa League match-day will follow a home clash against fierce rivals Liverpool on Sunday 20 October. This will be another draining affair for United’s players, who will, however, have an extra day to recover this time around. After this match, United face a trip to Carrow Road to take on newly-promoted Norwich City, who have already shown they are not to be underestimated. The trip to Belgrade is not the longest United will have to make this season but it will definitely be the most poignant journey for the club.

The Partizan Stadium is where the United side of 1958, known infamously as the Busby Babes, played against Partizan’s local rivals Red Star Belgrade, a day before the Munich Air Disaster. This will be the first time the club has returned to play a competitive match since that 3-3 draw against Red Star and it will no doubt be an emotional return, as the club and its supporters honour those who lost their lives in the disaster.

FK Partizan, Old Trafford, Manchester – Thursday 7 November 2019

Old Trafford will host its second European game of the season when United welcome the Serbian side for the return fixture. This will take place after United travel to the south coast to take on Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium. The time and date for this fixture, which could be very entertaining, has not been confirmed by the Premier League at the time of writing.

The fixture that comes after Europa League matchday four will, however, take place either on the Sunday or Monday that follows, as United welcome Brighton and Hove Albion to Old Trafford. The Seagulls have proven to be a tricky opponent for United in recent times, as they can be difficult to crack, particularly when they are in form. Before this, United will be looking to claim victory against Partizan, which will become even more important if the previous two European games away from home do not yield many points.

FC Astana, Astana Arena, Nur-Sultan – Thursday 28 November 2019

This will be by far the longest trip the Red Devils will have to make this season. Astana is closer to major cities in Asia than it is to Manchester, and the round trip for this fixture will be over a distance of around 12,000 kilometres. Fortuitously for United, it has been sandwiched between two Premier League games that are against newly-promoted sides and do not require much more travelling.

Before facing the Kazakhstani champions, United will travel to face Sheffield United. The Blades, of course, will be without their regular first-choice goalkeeper, Dean Henderson, who would be ineligible to face his parent club. After the long and exhausting journey to Kazakhstan, United will have a home game against Aston Villa.

As with the previous fixtures, the exact time and dates have yet to be confirmed by the Premier League at the time of writing, although the game against Villa will definitely be on the Sunday or Monday that follows. United will be hoping they are in a position to seal progression to the knockout stages when they make the journey to Eastern Europe.

AZ Alkmaar, Old Trafford, Manchester – Thursday 12 December 2019

United will conclude their participation in the group stages of the 2019/20 Europa League at home against AZ. This game comes during a difficult period of fixtures for the Red Devils, who will host Tottenham Hotspur and then make the short trip to face Manchester City in a derby at the Etihad Stadium in the days prior.

After the final match-day of the Europa League, United will be welcoming Everton to Old Trafford. These exact times and dates of these fixtures have also yet to be confirmed by the Premier League, although the game against Everton will take place on the Sunday or Monday that follows. This will represent a significant challenge for United as the Premier League will be heading towards the busy festive period, although they do have the benefit of not having to do much travelling.

Solskjaer will be hoping that qualification for the knockout stages is assured by this point, so that he may be allowed to rest players and rotate his squad in this fixture. AZ, however, have been particularly productive in away games in Europe so far this season and should not be underestimated.

In Closing

This is a group that United would expect to be topping. It does, however, remain to be seen how Solskjaer goes about selecting players for these games. He has promised a number of United’s highly-rated younger players will get chances this season, most likely in the Europa League and League Cup, at least in the first half of the season.

The inexperience of these players will probably make qualification for the knockout stages a little more difficult than it looks on paper. Progression from the Carabao Cup, where United have been drawn at home to Rochdale in the third round, will also have an impact on United’s attempts to secure the points needed to get to the knockout phase of the Europa League.

Solskjaer is going to have carefully manage the playing time of each of his players, in order to make sure United remain active in three competitions. The Europa League should perhaps be considered more important than the League Cup, particularly as it offers the club a second route to qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.

Written by Shiven Nayager

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