Friday 24 January 2020

No Pogba for Reds

Europa League: AZ Alkmaar v Man Utd (Virgin Media Sport, KO 5.55)

Paul Pogba will not feature for United in the Netherlands this evening after seeing a specialist
Paul Pogba will not feature for United in the Netherlands this evening after seeing a specialist

Paul Pogba has not travelled for Manchester United's Europa League clash with AZ Alkmaar following specialist advice about a foot injury and concerns over "one of the worst" plastic pitches Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has seen.

United continue their Group L campaign in The Hague on Thursday evening, when the France World Cup winner will be among a number of high-profile absentees.

Pogba played the entirety of last week's Carabao Cup penalty shoot-out win against Rochdale and the 1-1 Premier League draw with Arsenal on Monday, but an ongoing foot issue meant he did not head to Holland with United.

The club said in a statement: "Following a specialist's opinion, Paul Pogba requires a period of further rest and conservative treatment for the foot injury he sustained during the game against Southampton in August. Updates will follow in due course."

Solskjaer provided an update on Pogba's situation at his press conference yesterday, with the United manager saying it would have been too much of a risk to play the midfielder on the poor artificial surface.

"It is after discussions with a specialist that we planned he needs further treatment and rest on his ankle," he said.

"And I probably wouldn't risk him on Astroturf anyway if he was available for this game. But he needs a bit of rest now."

Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw, Ashley Young, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Phil Jones were others absent from the trip to Holland, where AZ Alkmaar are having to play in The Hague due to the collapse of the roof at their own stadium. The match is being held 47 miles away at ADO Den Haag's stadium, where the tired, plastic pitch shocked Solskjaer.

"I was surprised they have chosen to play on this pitch when I looked at it," he said.

"I am used to Astroturf pitches from back home in Norway and it is not the best I have seen. It is one of the worst ones I have seen for a long while.

"We have all got standards back home in Norway. They are all more modern and new, and you get them changed. But it is safe. It is not the newest.

"The 'grass' is on the floor, on the carpet more or less. I don't think they have pulled the grass up to get it to stand and be more bouncy.

"It seems like it has been used a lot. My knees haven't enjoyed Astroturf but these boys are OK."

The players scuffed and kicked the turf as they tested it on their way out for training on the eve of the game, while coaches spent time checking the way the ball bounced and ran across the surface.

The first trip of United's last continental campaign also came on an artificial surface as Jose Mourinho's side beat Young Boys in Switzerland - a 3-0 win that Juan Mata came into as a second-half substitute.

"It's a completely different game but we need to start from the beginning ready for them," the Spaniard said. "They're used to playing in these conditions and from the beginning they will be dangerous."

Solskjaer said this evening's clash is a massive game for the club. "We're just focused now on this one game," he said. "It's a massive game in this group for us.

"They started well getting a draw away to Partizan (2-2 draw) with 10 men. It's an important game for us to get a result in. This is the competition that we are competing in now.

"It is what it is. To be a Manchester United player is something really special and if I could win an important trophy during my time left here, it would be worth the wait."

Solskjaer said it could be a chance for some of his youngsters to stake their claims.

"One or two of ours will get another chance to impress," he said. "We will have a mixture of experience and youth."

Teenagers Brandon Williams, James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood have all been included in United's squad.

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