Ole Gunnar Solskjaer side feared, the plastic pitch here in Holland felt like a throwback to the 1980s. Sadly, so too do this Manchester United team.
Another day, another depressing demonstration of where United are at these days. Thursday night football – and the early kick-off at that – in a small, cramped stadium in the one of the backwaters of European football.
One that had United playing on a crude artificial surface that Solskjaer described as ‘one of the worst I’ve seen for a long while’.
The ball bounced ridiculously high and ran away from any player unfortunate enough not to receive an accurate pass. Alkmaar coped with it very well. United did not.
If that took us back nearly 40 years to the days when they did away with grass at the likes of QPR, Preston and Luton, then so do United at the moment; back to a time when this great club were also-rans in the title race and relative non-entities in Europe. United’s start in the league has been there worst for 30 years following Monday’s insipid draw with Arsenal.
In the Europa League, they have kicked off Group L with a laboured win over Astana, the champions of Kazakhstan, and now this, a wretched stalemate against AZ Alkmaar in The Hague.
There were no goals, no shots on goal from United, and nothing of any note aside from penalty appeals at either end. Yes, Solskjaer made changes and gave youth a chance again. But right now the green shoots of recovery he talks about feel as genuine as the plastic pitch here at the ADO Stadium.
It leaves the Norwegian without an away win 10 games since the stunning comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in March, a result which seems light years away from what we’re witnessing now.
‘Ooh, aah Cantona’ chanted the small bank of away fans for a prolonged period in the first half, but those days seem so distant.
United failed to lay a glove on very average opponents who played better than them and would have been the more worthy winners.
Indeed, after two instantly forgettable games in this competition, United are rather fortunate to have four points.
Solskjaer said he would play a mixture of youth and experience and did just that, making eight changes from the Arsenal game three days ago.
The lack of VAR spared Stijn Wuytens when he clumsily challenged Rashford, while fellow substitute Jesse Lingard endured a painful end to the game the day he was dropped by England – lashing a good chance wide before pulling up with an apparent hamstring injury.