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 on Wednesday afternoon, 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.
“We will train today to try and adapt to the pitch and hopefully after the game we cannot say it was an excuse and we’ve won the three points.”
AZ coach Arne Slot insists his side will go into the contest full of confidence despite not coming up against a side of the calibre of United in recent times, despite the Red Devils’ indifferent form.
He told a press conference, published on the club’s official website: “We have a lot of respect for Manchester United. But we certainly do not know fear. We also realise that we are good ourselves.
“Thursday we will see how the relationships are. Unfortunately we have not played against large European clubs of this kind in recent years.
“It is therefore difficult to estimate how we feel about them. What I do know is that we are in good shape and that we will face this competition with a lot of confidence.
“With a 10th place in the English league, Man United is not in top form.
“It makes quite a difference whether you play in the Eredivisie or in the Premier League.
“So the statistics give an unrealistic picture in that regard. It depends on who they line up with, but when they come with young boys we are talking about Europe’s greatest talents. “