ursday. Currently sitting third in their domestic league, Arne Slot's side will become the fifth Dutch team to have played the Reds in European competition - Ajax, PSV, Feyenoord and Willem II are the others.
AZ were formed in 1967 from the merger of two clubs – Alkmaar '54 and FC Zaanstreek. Since then, the club from the north of the country have established themselves as one of the Netherlands’ most successful sides, winning Eredivisie titles in 1981 and 2009 and four KNVB Cups, in 1978, 1981, 1982 and 2013. They also have previous in this competition, having finished as runners-up to Ipswich Town in the UEFA Cup in 1981. Although United have never played them in a competitive match, we do have a few links with AZ. Our former manager Louis van Gaal guided the Cheeseheads – Alkmaar is renowned for its cheese market – to their last league win a decade ago, while our current goalkeeper Sergio Romero was the man between the sticks during that triumphant campaign.
The hosts currently sit third in the Eredivisie table, with six wins, one draw and one defeat from their eight matches. The bizarrely-monikered Cheeseheads are currently on a four-game winning run in the league, with the 3-0 win at Feyenoord last Thursday their standout performance of the season so far. They followed that up with a 2-0 victory over Heracles on Sunday to stay within a point of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven at the top of the table and have the best defence in the division, having conceded only three goals. AZ defeated BK Hacken, Mariupol and Antwerp to qualify for the group stages of the 2019/20 UEFA Europa League and they fought their way to a 2-2 draw with Partizan Belgrade in their Group L opener in Serbia, despite playing most of the match with 10 men after Jonas Svensson’s 27th-minute red card.
Slot, AZ’s current boss, took over from John van den Brom – who moved to Utrecht after five years at the helm – during the summer. This is Slot’s first permanent job in management, but the former PEC Zwolle, Sparta Rotterdam and NAC Breda midfielder served under van den Brom as assistant for two years, helping guide the club to finishes of third and fourth in the Eredivisie.
AZ boast two players with Premier League experience in their squad, in the form of Ron Vlaar and Jordie Clasie. Centre-back Vlaar played for Aston Villa between 2012 and 2015 and was a key member of van Gaal’s squad when he guided the Netherlands to third place at the 2014 World Cup. Clasie, who plays in central midfield, also featured in Brazil and joined AZ in the summer from Southampton, where he made 49 appearances between 2015 and 2017 before being loaned out to Club Brugge and Feyenoord. Oussama Idrissi is the man United need to keep an eye on going forward for AZ. The Morocco international has struck six times in the league already this season. Idrissi’s fellow forwards Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu could also prove to be dangerous, with both having already opened their Group L account in AZ’s draw at Partizan as part of a youthful and talented attacking trio, while homegrown talent Teun Koopmeiners has netted five times from central midfield.
They will be a tough nut to crack as United travel to the AFAS Stadion.