MANCHESTER UNITED conclude their Europa League group-stage campaign on Thursday against AZ Alkmaar. Jack Lambden (@_JackL_) shares his betting thoughts.
Manchester United v AZ Alkmaar | Thursday 12th December 2019, 20:00 | BT Sport
Some of the gloom and pressure hanging over the red half of Manchester and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has lifted after an incredible week saw them record 2-1 wins over both Tottenham and rivals Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
Although those results arguably paper over the cracks at Old Trafford, there’s no doubting that United deserved to win both games and flexed their counter attacking muscle to maximum effect with the pace of Anthony Martial, Daniel James and Marcus Rashford causing no end of problems.
Although games against last season’s top six sides have resulted in W4-D2-L04, it’s performances and results against teams that the Red Devils should be dispatching with relative ease that have caused the biggest concern. Although the underlying issues remain, the signings of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and the aforementioned James look great pieces of business and Solskjaer appears to be getting the best out of Marcus Rashford, who is in a great run of form at present.
Looking ahead to this game though and the starting XI that lined-up to face their city rivals will be much different on Thursday evening. With United already qualified, the only objective left at this stage is to try and win the group which they will achieve with either a win or draw at Old Trafford.
The likes of Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe, James Garner and Tahith Chong will feature again and look to avenge the loss against Astana on Matchday 5, a game that promised so much for 60% of the game but then quickly turned on its head to leave the young team tasting defeat.
Had Chong converted his open goal to make the scoreline 2-0, the final result would likely have been very different though. With United fielding 32 different players in the group stages, more than any other team, expect changes again which lends itself to a difficult call on the outright markets which I’ll be looking to avoid.
Alkmaar eyes elsewhere?
AZ Alkmaar will travel to Manchester in confident mood having won their last four away games by an aggregate scoreline of 15-0 and will face a team with a younger average side than them for probably one of the only times this season.
The recent 4-0 win at PSV established a comfortable lead ahead of the Eindhoven club in second and with a game against leaders Ajax to come on Sunday, head coach Arne Slot will need to manage his squad carefully with the weekend game more important with Alkmaar having already progressed in the Europa League. Slot has spoken of his desire to win the group but will know that only three points at Old Trafford will achieve that.
The Cheeseheads (yes, that is one of the club’s nicknames!) have scored 15 goals in the group stages which is more than any other team but will be without top scorer Myron Boadu for this match following the 18 year-old’s red card against Partizan Belgrade.
The boyhood Manchester United fan will be gutted to miss out but it’ll be a harsh lesson in discipline for the striker after two reds this campaign. Although Ferdy Druijf is capable as a replacement, AZ could well be less potent in front of goal when taking out Boadu’s 10 goals in 10 matches.
Although AZ’s Eredivisie form is fantastic, the club have won just two of their last 11 continental away ties when taking out qualification games, a trait common for Dutch clubs on their travels. Despite having much the better of the reverse game (winning the shot count 12 to 6 and the corner count 10 to 1), Alkmaar were unable to find a way through a stubborn United defence and the match petered out into a 0-0 draw.
Even with Boadu out, United playing a weakened side and there being no goals in the game in Holland, it’s hard to rule out goals considering the recent matches involving these teams since that tie in October so I will instead look to prop markets.
The betting angles
As already mentioned, both sides are through so this should not be a particularly intense affair even if first place in Group L is up for grabs. There was only one yellow card in the 0-0 draw which came in the 91st minute so I like the look of Under 4 Cards which is 8/5 with William Hill.
United in particular have only been rewarded six cards in their five group games and only two at Old Trafford which ranks them 44th out of the 48 sides at this stage of the competition.
Swiss referee Sandro Schärer is not prolific at flashing the cards when compared to other officials in this competition, ranking outside the top 50 for yellow cards per-game.
Mason Greenwood will likely start up front and having bagged a goal in both of the other group games at Old Trafford, I am going to put some money on him to score anytime which has been boosted with SkyBet to 13/8.
Greenwood registered five shots against Astana when playing as a number nine rather than wide right so I’d be confident of the teenager converting again in front of his home supporters, particularly if Ron Vlaar does not recover from injury in time to play at centre-back and Jordy Clasie, normally a midfielder, has to fill in.
If I had to call the outrights I would edge for United to get the job done but with so many question marks surrounding team selection for both sides and factoring in the context of the game, those prop selections appeal slightly more.
Manchester United v AZ Alkmaar – Under 4 Match Cards (8/5 WilliamHill)
Manchester United v AZ Alkmaar – Mason Greenwood to score at anytime (13/8 SkyBet)