Manchester United have been drawn into Group L of the 2019/20 Europa League and face home and away clashes with Astana, Partizan Belgrade and AZ Alkmaar over the next three months.
If you’re not overly familiar with the clubs, here’s a rundown of all the background information you need on United’s European opponents this season…
FC Astana (KAZ)
How They Qualified – As reigning champions of Kazakhstan, their fifth consecutive title, Astana initially entered the Champions League in the first qualifying round, only to be knocked out by Romania’s Cluj. But they subsequently navigated Europa League qualifiers against Santa Coloma, Valletta and BATE Borisov to make it into this group stage.
A Brief History – Astana were formed as recently as 2009, just 10 years ago, but they already risen to become the dominant force in Kazakh football. They won their first trophy in 2010 in the shape of the Kazakhstan Cup and won first the Kazakhstan Premier League in 2014. They have since been crowned national champions every year and are fighting for yet another title in 2019.
European Pedigree – Despite being a young club, Astana have good European experience. They played in the Europa League for the first time in 2013 and even got to the Champions League group stage in 2015/16, remarkably remaining unbeaten at home against Atletico Madrid, Benfica and Galatasaray. They also reached the Europa League last 32 in 2017/18.
Past Meetings – In a word, none.
Any Other Business? Englishman Paul Ashworth, who has worked extensively in Latvia over the last 20 years, was appointed as Astana’s new technical director in January 2019.
FK Partizan (SRB)
How They Qualified – Partizan finished third in the 2018/19 Serbian Superliga and entered the Europa League at the second qualifying round, knocking out semi-professional Welsh outfit Connah’s Quay Nomads. Yeni Malatyaspor of Turkey provided a bit more of a challenge in the next round, and most recently seeing off Molde, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s old club.
A Brief History – Partizan are one of Serbia’s two traditional powerhouses alongside city neighbours Red Star Belgrade. They have won 27 national championships over the years, including 11 in the old Yugoslav First League prior to the country’s breakup. No other club, not even Red Star, have won more Serbian league titles since the Superliga was formed in 2006.
European Pedigree – Partizan famously reached the European Cup final in 1966, but lost against Real Madrid in Brussels. Much more recently they beat a very strong Newcastle side to the 2003/04 Champions League group stage, although reaching the Europa League last 32 in 2017/18 remains their only European knockout appearance since 2005.
Past Meetings – The only time Partizan have previously faced United was en-route to that 1966 final, emerging victorious against a Sir Matt Busby team in the semi-finals. Partizan won the first leg 2-0 in Belgrade, and a 1-0 United victory at Old Trafford wasn’t enough to overturn it.
Any Other Business? Zoran Tosic is a name United fans may remember. The winger, now 32 years of age, moved to Old Trafford from Partizan in January 2009, but he made just five first team appearances before heading elsewhere. He eventually returned to Partizan in 2017.
AZ Alkmaar (NED)
How They Qualified – AZ finished fourth in the Dutch Eredivisie last season, which was enough for place in the Europa League second qualifying round. They saw off BK Hacken of Sweden, then Mariupol of Ukraine, before knocking out ex-United feeder club Royal Antwerp, where players like John O’Shea and Jonny Evans were once on loan, in the playoff round.
A Brief History – The club was formed in 1967 as a result of a local merger and have spent most of the last half century in the Eredivisie. They had something of a golden era in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which yielded three KNVB Cups and an Eredivisie title. Another KNVB Cup came in 2012/13, while Louis van Gaal delivered an unlikely Eredivisie title in 2008/09.
European Pedigree – At the peak of the aforementioned golden era, AZ reached the UEFA Cup final in 1981, losing to Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town. They’ve been European regulars for most of the last 15 years, albeit almost exclusively in the UEFA Cup/Europa League. AZ made the quarter finals of this competition in 2011/12 and 2013/14, as well as the last 32 in 2016/17.
Past Meetings – Just like Astana, AZ are a totally new opponent for United.
Any Other Business? AZ have had several very famous coaches in the recent past, from Van Gaal to Ronald Koeman, Dick Advocaat and Marco van Basten. But their current boss is Arne Slot, a little known 40-year-old in his very first season as a head coach.