Solskjaer irked as tie moved to artificial pitch
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has criticised the decision to move Manchester United’s Europa League tie against AZ Alkmaar on to an artificial pitch which he described as one of the worst he has seen.
Solskjaer grew up playing on artificial pitches in Norway, but is struggling to understand why a country with Holland’s climate still allows top-level games to be played on them. Alkmaar were unable to host the Group L tie at their home stadium as one of the stands was badly damaged in an August storm and is still being repaired.
Although there were plenty of stadiums to choose from, United have been forced to play on an old and battered artificial surface at the Kyocera Stadium, the home of ADO Den Haag. The fact Alkmaar have been playing all home games here for the past two months inevitably means they will have an advantage.
The concern over the surface was one of the main reasons behind Solskjaer’s decision to leave Paul Pogba out of the squad, although it is doubtful the France international would have started the game as his workload is being managed following a return from a foot injury.
“I’m surprised they’ve chosen to play on this pitch when I look at it,” said Solskjaer, who has not won an away game since the victory over Paris St-germain in early March.
“I’m used to artificial pitches in Norway. It’s not the best I’ve seen, it’s one of the worst I’ve seen for a long while. We’ve all got standards back home in Norway and they are modern and new – it’s safe, I’m not saying that, it’s just not the newest.
“It’s just on the floor, so on the carpet more or less, so when you pull the grass up [and] you [need] to do that loads, there’s more bounce. It seems like it’s been used a lot.
“I’m surprised that, in this climate, you have to use it. It’s OK when you live in the North Pole, like we more or less do in Norway, and can’t play in March, November or December, but here, I’m surprised. There’s a different style on artificial pitches, there are parts of the game which will become different, there’s less tackles … but you can’t ban them because you can’t force the Norwegian teams to have natural grass. If I was running a club here, I wouldn’t have an artificial pitch.”
Solkjaer was glad to have something to complain about, as it limited the time spent discussing his team’s deficiencies. AZ would already have been tough opponents – they are third in the Eredivisie and have lost only once this season – but the pitch also works in their favour.
“You keep talking about concerns,” Solskjaer replied when asked if he was worried about their poor start. “We are a good team. We have been winning 1-0, those games should suit us more and we’ve played some very good away games.” Probable teams – AZ Alkmaar (4-3-3) Bizot; Sugawara, Vlaar, Wijndal, Wuytens; Midtsjo, Koopmeiners, De Wit; Stengs, Boadu, Idrissi.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1) Romero; Dalot, Tuanzebe, Rojo, Williams; Matic, Fred; Gomez, Mata, Lingard; Greenwood. Referee Gediminas Mazeika (Lithuania).
Unreal: Manchester United train on artificial grass at the Kyocera Stadium