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Preview: Astana relatively unknown for United; Solskjaer must pick youth and experience in his squad

Manchester United -v- FC Astana

UEFA Europa League

Old Trafford, Manchester

Thursday 19 September 2019, KO 20:00 BST

Referee: François Letexier  Assistants: Cyril Mugnier; Mehdi Rahmouni Fourth Official: Jérôme Brisard

Manchester United will open their UEFA Europa League season against FC Astana at Old Trafford on Thursday evening. The Kazakhstani side will endure a 6,000 mile round trip for the match, which United will do themselves later this year. United will have some confidence after beating Leicester City this weekend, sitting in the Premier League top four.

Roman Hryhorchuk’s side is nearing the end of their season, other than playing in the Europa League until December, which might become problematic for them. The reigning Kazakhstani champions currently sit in third place in the Premier League, five points adrift of leaders Tobol who have played two matches more. Retaining their title is still possible.

This month will see United compete in three competitions; the Premier League, the Europa League and the Carabao Cup. Just three days after this match, United will travel to face West Ham United, then three days later, welcome Rochdale to Old Trafford in the League Cup, ending the month five days later at home to Arsenal – the second big match this season.

Form: Astana in much better form ahead of their trip to Old Trafford. However, United will have new-found confidence after Leicester victory at the weekend.

Manchester United: WDLDWW (* denotes friendly)

Leicester City 1-0 W, Southampton 1-1 D, Crystal Palace 2-1 L, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-1 D, Chelsea 4-0 W, AC Milan 2-2 (5-4 on penalties) W*

FC Astana: WLWWWW (* denotes friendly)

Shakhter Karagandy 2-1 W, BATE Borisov 2-0 L, Taraz 5-0 W, BATE Borisov 3-0 W, Valletta 4-0 W, Aktobe 3-2 W

Top Scorers: Astana have scored many goals this season, which has been running since March whereas United have barely started theirs, playing just five matches so far.

Manchester United: United returned to winning ways at the weekend with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Leicester, a confidence builder ahead of tougher tests coming this month.

Goals: 3 – Daniel James, Marcus Rashford, 2 – Anthony Martial

United have had a mixed season so far, beating Chelsea 4-0, drawing 1-1 to Wolverhampton Wanderers, losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace, then drawing 1-1 with Southampton before the international break. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side returned to winning ways with a 1-0 victory over Leicester City, returning to the top four of the Premier League.

FC Astana: Astana have scored many goals this season but they might be tested against Manchester United at Old Trafford, or rather should be.

Goals: 19 – Marin Tomasov, 10 – Roman Murtazayev, 6 – Rangelo Janga, Rúnar Már Sigurjónsson, 5 – Dorin Rotariu, 4 – Junior Kabananga, 3 – Yuriy Logvinenko, 2 – Didar Zhalmukan, Ivan Mayewski, Marin Aničić, Serikzhan Muzhikov, Yevgeny Postnikov, Yuriy Pertsukh, 1 – Abzal Beisebekov, Ndombe Mubele, Sergei Khizhnichenko

Astana started their season on the 11 March 2019 and are close to the end of the season, despite playing in the UEFA Europa League until at least December with their pre-season due to start in January. In terms of fitness, at this late stage in the season, they will be at an advantage but in terms of freshness, because of the long season, it could be a disadvantage.

Team News: Solskjaer should utilise the depth of his squad, using youth to give players a rest ahead of West Ham clash on Sunday.

Solskjaer has Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial on the sidelines with illness or injury. Aaron Wan-Bissaka could have been on that list too, had he not returned against Leicester at the weekend. Solskjaer, though may have to use the depth of his squad in order to field a team to face Astana.

David De Gea could be rested with Sergio Romero taking charge of goalkeeping duties, whilst both Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo have not yet played this season with Axel Tuanzebe seeking firstteam action following his off the bench appearances against Leicester this weekend. The manager may also make changes across the pitch.

In midfield, the likes of Fred and James Garner could shuffle the pack with the likes of Angel Gomes, Mason Greenwood and Tahith Chong adding some of their ability to the attacking ranks in order to keep some players fit for the visit to West Ham on Sunday. Solskjaer will decide whether to take a risk or not, but he should utilise his squad.

Predicted Starting XI: Solskjaer to use a mixture of experience and youth to take on Astana at Old Trafford with exciting players being given the nod to take on the Kazakhstani side?

Solskjaer will need to look at the depth of his squad in order to keep players fresh for the upcoming matches. A mixture of youth and experienced players would be best, keeping players in the team that will become the core, allowing others to express themselves and carve future opportunities under the Norwegian this season.

Match Prediction: Unknown territory for both United and Astana as they look to start competing against each other. Who will reign supreme in the first head-to-head fixture?

United and Astana have never met in the history of both clubs. This will be the first time and some rather unknown territory for United. In the Europa League, United won the competition in the 2016/17 season, winning ten times, drawing three times and losing twice. They first played in the rebranded UEFA Cup in the 2011/12 season, playing for times, winning once and losing three times.

Manchester United 3-0 FC Astana

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

UEFA Europa League: Who are FC Astana, Manchester United’s Kazakhstani group stage opposition

Manchester United group in the UEFA Europa League was drawn on Friday afternoon. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United will be pitted against FC Astana of Kazakhstan, Partizan Belgrade of Serbia, and AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands. After United’s start to the season, these matches will ensure that the club will sink or swim in the competition.

FC Astana are from Kazakhstan and were founded in 2009 as Lokomotiv Astana, so have had ten years experience as a football club. The young club plays in the Kazakhstan Premier League, winning the league five times in the decade they have been a club. Home matches are played a the Astana Arena, a 30,244 capacity stadium Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

The Astana Arena was completed on the 3 July 2009 and homes Astana, FC Baytarek, the Kazakhstani national team, also hosting the 2011 Asian Winter Games. Astana has had 12 managers in this history of the club, the most successful was Stanimir Stoilov who won four Kazakhstan Premier League titles, one Kazakhstan Cup and one Kazakhstan Super Cup.

Astana won their first trophy in 2010, the Kazakhstan Cup, which has been won three times by the club. The Kazakhstan Super Cup was lifted in 2011 with the club winning it four times. The first league title was won in 2014, lifting it each year since. Currently, Astana are fourth in the league, five points adrift of league leaders FC Tobol.

As the reigning Kazakhstani champions, Astana initially qualified for the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round and were drawn against CFR Cluj. Astana won the first leg 1-0 but lost the second leg 3-1, losing 3-2 on aggregate and exiting the competition. They then faced qualification in the UEFA Europa League instead.

Entering in the second qualification round, Astana beat Santa Coloma 4-1 on aggregate, after a 0-0 draw in the first leg. They were then drawn against Maltese side Valletta, winning 5-1 and 4-0, 9-1 on aggregate. In the playoff round, they face BATE Borisov, winning 3-0 at home and losing 2-0 away but reaching the group stages with a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Who is the manager of FC Astana?

Roman Hryhorchuk is the current manager of the club. The 54-year-old was announced as the manager of the club on the 1 June 2018. The Ukrainian was a striker in his playing career coming through the academy of Nyva Berezhany. He has played for many clubs, including Silmash Kolomyia, Prykarpattya Ivano-Frankivsk, and Temp Shepetivka.

In 1994, Hryhorchuk played for Austrian club VSE St. Poelten, before moving to Polish club ZKS Petrochemia Płock, then to Russian club Saturn Ramenskoye. His playing career was over in 2001 after ending his time as a player at Latvian club Dinaburg. Whilst playing for the club, he was the assistant manager, becoming the manager the years before he retired.

Hryhorchuk left his role at Dinaburg in 2004, commencing his management career in 2005 at Ventspils in Latvia. He left the club in 2009 to return to Ukraine, taking on the top job at Metalurh Zaporizhya, before being named as the Chornomorets Odesa manager a year later. He left Ukraine in 2014 to manager Azerbaijani club Gabala, before taking on his current role four years later.

Who plays for FC Astana?

Marin Tomasov, a 31-year-old Croatian winger, has played for Astana for around two years now. He is currently the clubs top scorer with 18 goals in 32 appearances for the club. In his career, Tomasov has played for Hajduk Split and 1860 München before moving to Astana, where he spent a period on loan before becoming a permanent signing at the club.

The second top scorer at the club is Kazakhstani forward Roman Murtazayev. The 25-year-old has been at the club since 2016, signing from Irtysh Pavlodar. Murtazayev has scored ten goals in 33 appearances for the club this season. Granted, the season is 23 league games in for this club but they will be ready to take on United before the winter.

Curaçao-born Rangelo Janga is joint-third in goals scored this season, scoring six times in 31 appearances. The 6ft 5in striker in 27 and could well pose a threat for United if given the chance. Teammate, Rúnar Már Sigurjónsson is also on six goals in just 14 appearances with the Icelandic midfielder show his class in this league. Dorin Rotariu, a 24-year-old forward from Romania has five goals in 31 appearances.

Does United have a history with FC Astana?

United and Astana have never met competitively, so this will be the first time both clubs have played a competitive fixture. It will be relatively unknown for United, although they have played teams from far away in the UEFA Europa League before, although never against a club from Kazakhstan, this will be the first time for that also.

Astana, despite being a young club, had experience playing European football. They first played in the Europa League in 2013 and also made it to the group stages of the UEFA Champions League during the 2015/16 season, where they were unbeaten at home against Atletico Madrid, Benfica and Galatasaray, which was good for them.

During the 2016/17 season, when United lifted the Europa League for the first time, they were drawn against Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine in the group stages. United were also drawn against Russian side Rostov in the round of 16. Jose Mourinho, then manager of the club, led his side to glory by beating Ajax 2-0 in the final, played in Stockholm, Sweden.

When are the matches against FC Astana going to be played?

United will face Astana at Old Trafford on Thursday 19 September 2019 with the match kicking off at 20:00 BST. The away leg in Kazakhstan will be played at the Astana Arena on Thursday 28 November 2019, kicking off at 15:50 BST. Kazakhstan is six hours ahead of the United Kingdom. This will be a massive trip for United, who will travel more than 6,000 miles for the match, in between a trip to Sheffield United and welcoming Aston Villa at Old Trafford.

UEFA Europa League: Who are AZ Alkmaar, Manchester United’s Dutch group stage opposition

The draw for the group stages of the 2019/20 UEFA Europa League has been made and Manchester United find themselves in Group L alongside FC Astana of Kazakhstan, FK Partizan of Serbia and AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands. United, who were seeded in Pot 1 and should be considered favourites to top the group, will play the competition’s group stage for the second time in the last five seasons and will no doubt be aiming to repeat their triumph in the 2016/17 season.

Alkmaar Zaanstreek, known simply as AZ, were founded on the 10 May 1967 as the result of a merger between nearby clubs Alkmaar ’54 and FC Zaanstreek. The club plays home games at the AFAS Stadion, which is located in southern Alkmaar and has a capacity of around 17,000. This stadium, which is owned directly by the club, has been their home since the summer of 2006.

The club competes in the top tier of Dutch football, the Eredivisie, which it has won twice in its relatively brief history. They have also finished as runners-up on two occasions, while also achieving similar successes in the lower divisions during the 1950s and 60s. They have however, spent most of the last 50 years in the Eredivisie. The club has also won the Dutch National Cup, the KNVB Cup, four times, while also finishing as losing finalists on three occasions, most recently in the 2017/18 season.

Their most recent Eredivisie title win in 2008/09 also enabled them to claim their only Johan Cruyff Shield at the beginning of the following season. Continentally, the club has regularly competed in UEFA’s second-tier competitions, the European Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Cup and the UEFA Europa League. They have a decent record in the Europa League and its predecessor competition, finishing runners-up during the 1980/81 season, where they also claimed a domestic league and cup double.

They have since made the semi-finals just once, however, and their campaigns have ended at the quarter-final stage a further three times. The club participated in the UEFA Champions League group stages in the 2009/10 season as a result of winning the 2008/09 Eredivisie. They eventually finished bottom of a group which contained United’s domestic rivals Arsenal.

They qualified for this seasons Europa League, having defeated Swedish side BK Häcken 3-0 on aggregate in the second qualifying round, which they were eligible to enter courtesy of a fourth-place finish in the 2018/19 Eredivisie. This was followed by a 4-0 aggregate win over Ukrainian side FC Mariupol in the third qualifying round. They then defeated United’s former Belgian feeder club, Royal Antwerp, 5-2 on aggregate in the playoff round to earn their place in the group stage.

Who is the manager of AZ Alkmaar?

AZ are currently managed by Dutchman Arne Slot, a former midfielder who represented a number of clubs in his homeland. He is very much in the infancy of his career as a manager and will no doubt be looking to claim a few scalps to enhance his reputation. As a player, he made his professional debut as a teenager in 1995 at FC Zwolle, for whom he scored 50 goals over the course of seven seasons. He later joined NAC Breda, where he spent the next five seasons.

He left to join Sparta Rotterdam, where he played for two seasons, before being loaned back to his old club, FC Zwolle. He then joined their local rivals PEC Zwolle, scoring 16 goals in three seasons with them, before retiring in 2013. He stayed on at the club and begun his coaching career with their youth teams. A year later, he was appointed assistant manager at a club in the lower divisions of Dutch football, SC Cambuur. He worked there for three years before becoming assistant manager of AZ, eventually becoming the club’s manager on the 1 July 2019.

Under his tutelage, they have begun this season unbeaten in domestic and European competitions. They kicked off the season at home with a goalless draw against Häcken, whom they then beat 3-0 in Sweden. Their domestic campaign got underway with a resounding 4-0 win over Fortuna Sittard. This preceded another goalless draw, this time away at Mariupol. They continued their domestic campaign with a 2-0 win at RKC Waalwijk. The return fixture against the Ukrainians ended in a 4-0 win, which booked their place in the playoff round of the Europa League.

Their next two games were also at home, where a goalless draw in the Eredivisie against FC Groningen was followed by a 1-1 draw against Royal Antwerp, who hung on for the draw after having a man sent off. They put this frustrating result behind them just a few days ago, beating the Belgian side 4-1 on their own patch, thus qualifying for the Europa League group stages. This match went to extra time, after AZ equalised in the last minute of regulation time, against an Antwerp side who, by that point, had been reduced to nine men.

Who plays for AZ Alkmaar?

AZ boast players who may not be as unfamiliar to United as one might think. These include Dutch internationals in the form of club captain Ron Vlaar, a former Aston Villa defender, as well as midfielder Jordy Clasie, formerly of Southampton. One of their key players is a compatriot of United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Norwegian international midfielder Fredrik Midtsjø. 

AZ typically line up in a 4-3-3 formation, a favourite of Dutch teams in years gone by. This is hardly surprising since the club has a Dutch manager and a predominantly Dutch squad. Even the players who aren’t Dutch were either born in or have spent their formative years in the Netherlands, so United can expect a stern test against a team that is comfortable in possession. Similar to United, AZ also have a number of academy graduates in their first-team squad for the 2019/20 season.

As one would expect from Dutch teams, their forwards are their most potent threat. Their first-choice forwards include Dutch-born Moroccan international Oussama Idrissi, who has scored four goals so far this season, predominantly from the left-wing. On the opposite flank is 20-year-old Dutch winger Calvin Stengs, who is of Surinamese descent. He has scored three goals and provided two assists already this season. Their most exciting player is up front, in the form of 18-year-old Dutch striker Myron Boadu, who is of Ghanaian descent.

He has three goals and three assists to his name in 2019/20. Further back, their trio in midfield, which includes a holding player, enables their forward players and full-backs to get at their opposition. Over the years, Dutch teams have produced some potent forwards, who have been coveted by bigger European clubs for their ability in front of goal. AZ appear to have this across their frontline, so United’s defence will have their work cut out when they face them. 

The Eredivisie still in its early stages, and the club will be hoping to keep pace with rivals PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord Rotterdam, as well as reigning champions AFC Ajax, who were a surprise package in last season’s Champions League. Having their first full season under a new manager themselves, it is likely that AZ have similar expectations for the season as United. A run in domestic and European cup competitions would be welcomed, provided that their league form didn’t suffer as a result.

Does United have a history with AZ Alkmaar?

United will be facing AZ for the first time in the club’s history. They will be the fifth different Dutch opponent United will have faced in European competition, following Ajax, PSV, Feyenoord and Willem II. United were defeated on their last two visits to the Netherlands, which were coincidentally the opening fixtures of their European campaigns in those respective seasons. They lost 2-1 to PSV in the 2015/16 Champions League group stage, and 1-0 to Feyenoord during the group stage of their victorious 2016/17 Europa League campaign.

AZ’s most recent league title win was masterminded by former United manager Louis van Gaal. The Dutchman left the club after this triumph to manage German giants Bayern Munich, whom he led to a domestic league and cup double. He also led them to the 2010 Champions League final, where he was defeated by Inter Milan, who were managed by his eventual replacement as United manager, José Mourinho. AZ has also been managed by former Southampton and Everton manager Ronald Koeman, as well as former Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat.

In addition to these two, they have also been managed by legendary Dutch striker Marco van Basten, who played against the Red Devils for Ajax during pre-season in 1986, just a few months before Sir Alex Ferguson first took the reins at Old Trafford. United’s current number two goalkeeper Sergio Romero was a key member of AZ’s last Eredivisie-winning side and his relationship with van Gaal is perhaps what persuaded him to sign for the Red Devils in 2015.

Romero of course, was the club’s first-choice goalkeeper in the 2016/17 Europa League, keeping a clean sheet in the final against Ajax as United emerged victorious. United have previously been acquainted with a few of AZ’s notable youth team graduates. These include former Sunderland winger Jeremain Lens, who scored a fantastic free-kick against United while on loan at Fenerbahçe during the group stages of the 2016/17 Europa League.

This group of players also includes former PSV winger Luciano Narsingh, who scored in United’s 2-1 defeat to the Dutch side in the 2015/16 Champions League, as well as current Burnley winger Jóhann Berg Guđmundsson. Among players to have previously played for AZ is Belgian international and former Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Mousa Dembélé, who was another key player under van Gaal at the Dutch club.

When are the matches against AZ Alkmaar going to be played?

United will visit the AFAS Stadion to play AZ for the very first time on Europa League match-day 2 on the 3 October, with kick-off set for 17:55 BST. The away trip to Alkmaar will be the shortest that United and their supporters will have to make in the group stages of this seasons competition, with the two cities being separated by less than 500 kilometres. The return fixture at Old Trafford will bring the group stage to a conclusion and will take place on December 12th, with kick-off at 21:00 BST.

As usual, these group matches will be sandwiched between Premier League fixtures. The first meeting takes place a few days after United face rivals Arsenal at Old Trafford. It will be followed by another trip, this time to face Newcastle United. The return fixture comes after a Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium and will precede another home game for United, against Everton. All in all, United will be looking to get maximum points from both encounters against a relatively inexperienced side.

That being said, AZ still looks like a dangerous opponent who should not be underestimated, particularly as they’ve won games by large margins, even away from home. The trips to and from the away game are probably going to be the most comfortable for the players, as it is a much shorter journey than those to Kazakhstan and Serbia. These games are all still likely be tough tests for United’s players, many of whom are inexperienced in European competition.

Written by Shiven Nayager

UEFA Europa League: Who are Partizan Belgrade, Manchester United’s Serbian group stage opposition

Manchester United found out their fate in the UEFA Europa League on Friday afternoon. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side was drawn against FC Astana of Kazakhstan, Partizan Belgrade of Serbia, and AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands. It could be a tough test for United who has a largely inexperienced side after the first stage of Solskjaer’s rebuild.

FK Partizan, or Partizan Belgrade as they are known outside of Serbia have been in existence since the 4 October 1945, shortly after World War II ended. They will soon be heading into their 74th year of existence. Partizan play in the Serbian SuperLiga and have always played in the top tier of Yugoslavian and Serbian football.

Partizan was founded by young high officers of the Yugoslav People’s Army in 1945 in Belgrade, which was part of the Yugoslav Sports Association Partizan. They have played at the Partizan Stadium in Belgrade since 1949. The club won their first league title in the 1946/47 season, winning the Yugoslav First League 11 times up until the end of the 1986/87 season.

Partizan has won the Serbia and Montenegro First League eight times from the 1992/93 season until the 2004/05 season. Currently playing in the Serbian SuperLiga, the club has won this title eight times also, the first time during the 2007/08 season, last winning the title at the end of the 2016/17 season. Red Star Belgrade are the current holders, winning the title during the last two seasons.

Partizan has also won national cup 16 times; winning the Yugoslav Cup five times, the Serbia and Montenegro Cup four times and the Serbian Cup seven times, setting a record by lifting the cup last season. Partizan also won the Yugoslav Super Cup in 1989. The Serbian club won the Mitropa Cup in 1978. The club has not yet won a major European honour but they were the runners-up in the European Cup in the 1965/66 season.

To qualify for the UEFA Europa League this season, Partizan started in the second qualifying round where they beat Connah’s Quay 4-0 in aggregate, then beat Yeni Malatyaspor 3-2 on aggregate in the third qualifying round, also beating Solskjaer’s former club, Molde 3-2 on aggregate in the playoff round to earn their group stage position.

Who is the manager of Partizan Belgrade?

Savo Milošević currently manages Partizan and has done since the 27 March 2019, winning his first match days later, a 3-2 victory over FK Čukarički. In his first Eternal derby, the match against Red Star Belgrade, he suffered a defeat with his side losing 2-1 and scoring their only goal in the 90th minute, through Ricardo Gomes.

Milošević ended the 2018/19 season with Partizan qualifying for the qualification rounds of the UEFA Europa League, earning a group stage berth with three aggregate victories. The 45-year-old won his first trophy, beating Red Star in the Serbian Cup with Bojan Ostojić scoring the only goal of the game in the 14th minute.

Milošević had played football since the age of six, signing for Partizan at 14. He came through the youth system, playing his first senior match for the club in 1992, coming through the ranks as a striker. In 1995, he left Partizan, spending three season at Aston Villa, playing 117 times, scoring 33 goals. He then played for Real Zaragoza, Parma, Espanyol, Celta Viga, Osasuna, ending his playing career at Rubin Kazan.

Who plays for Partizan Belgrade?

Former United midfielder Zoran Tošić currently plays for Partizan with the 32-year-old joining his former club in 2017, the club he left to sign for United. Tošić spent around a year at United, signing for the club in January 2009 with teammate Adem Ljanić joining at the same time. Tošić played in five competitive matches for United, not scoring a single goal.

Tošić has scored three goals in nine appearances at Partizan this season. Another player at the club is Guinean international Seydouba Soumah, who has scored four goals in ten appearances so far this season. Serbian winger Filip Stevanović has four goals also, playing eight times so far this season. Goalkeeper and captain, Vladimir Stojković has also played ten times this season, keeping five clean sheets.

Milošević has depth in his squad with 30 players in his team at various stages of their careers. So far this season, after ten matches, although they should have played 12 by now, the manager has only used 23 of those 30 players. It will be a long, tough season for both United and Partizan, who will be seeking to add pressure to Red Star and current league leaders, Vojvodina, the club United signed Vanja Milinkovic-Savic from.

Does United have a history with Partizan Belgrade?

United has played Partizan twice in the history of both clubs. These matches were played during the 1965/66 season in the semi-final of the European Cup. The first leg was played in Belgrade, a 2-0 victory to the home side on the 13 April 1966. Seven days later, at Old Trafford, United won 1-0 with Nobby Styles scoring but United exited the competition 2-1 on aggregate.

Eight years previously, United played Red Star Belgrade (Crvena Zvezda as they are known in Serbia), winning 2-1 at Old Trafford with Bobby Charlton and Eddie Colman scoring the goals. Just over three weeks later, United faced Red Star in Belgrade. The match was switched to the Partizan Stadium where United drew 3-3, with Dennis Viollet scoring the opening goal and Bobby Charlton scoring a brace.

Of course, the Munich Air Disaster happened the following day when returning to Manchester, stopping in southern Germany to refuel. Eight of the players died in the crash; Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards (15 days later), Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam Whelan, with two others never playing football again; Jackie Blanchflower and Johnny Berry.

This visit to the Partizan Stadium will be the first time the club has returned to play a competitive football match. United played Red Star again back in 1991 in the UEFA Super Cup at Old Trafford, a match they won 1-0 with Brian McClair scoring the only goal of the match. This will be emotional, effectively playing in the same stadium as the Busby Babes did all those years ago. It should be a celebration that football did not die on that fateful day.

When are the matches against Partizan Belgrade going to be played?

United will face Partizan in Belgrade on Thursday 24 October 2019 with the match kicking off at 17:55 BST. The match at Old Trafford will come a fortnight later on Thursday 7 November 2019, kicking off at 20:00 GMT. The first match will come days after welcoming Liverpool to Old Trafford and the visit to Norwich City. The second match will be played between a visit to Bournemouth and a clash with Brighton and Hove Albion at Old Trafford.

copyright: JW