Another record beckons Manchester United as Jose Mourinho prepares his side to face Ajax in an attempt to win the first Europa League trophy in the club’s history.
Manchester United were tipped to be one of the favourites from the get-go even as the group stages of the UEFA Europa League were yet to begin. And the Red Devils have sometimes wilted but have managed to reach the finals of the competition – a final that is of huge importance.
United have finished sixth in the league and would only qualify for the UEFA Europa League, unless they triumph in the aforementioned final, which would see them enter the Champions League as the winners of the Europa League – necessary if United are to attract the very best lot of players in the summer.
Ajax, on the other hand, have conjured up a fairytale run, with a squad that boasts of youthful exuberance. Their sheer audacity and style of play has endeared them to the fans worldwide as they kept taking scalp after scalp. However, no one thought they would dismantle Lyon in such a manner.
And now, they have just one team left on their path to achieving a major European trophy. Both the clubs have a very rich history and are two of the most decorated sides in European football. It is set to be an exciting matchup between the two sides in Stockholm as we take a closer look at the fixture.
Team News & Tactics
Nick Viergever’s absence could prove to be telling as the 26-year-old is suspended for the big match. 17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt is all set to start in his place, making the average age of the lineup even lower. However, Peter Bosz has been rewarded for showing faith in the youth this season and is expected to continue doing the same.
And while de Ligt is set to partner Davinson Sanchez in central defence, 20-year-old Jairo Riedewald is set to replace Daley Singraven, who is not upto match fitness. The focus will be, though, on Ajax working as a unit, as they have done so far this season.
Manchester United will set themselves in a way that their defence will be hard to break and the onus will be on the master creator of Ajax, Hakim Ziyech to work his magic again.
Probable Lineup ( 4-3-3 ): Onana; Veltman, Sanchez, De Ligt, Riedewald; Klaasen, Schone, Ziyech; Traore, Dolberg, Younes
Manchester United were always expected to reach the finals. However, they have stuttered their way through to Stockholm, especially with an injury plagued squad, which will test Jose Mourinho again. The Portuguese is set to be without Eric Bailly, who earned a suspension in the second-leg match against Celta at Old Trafford.
Marcos Rojo is out for the season and Chris Smalling is doubtful, which means Mourinho is likely to go with the pairing of Phil Jones and Daley Blind at the back, with Axel Tuanzebe likely to be on the bench.
Marouane Fellaini is also a doubt and in case the Belgian doesn’t manage to make it to the eleven, Michael Carrick is the most likely person to take his place alongside the likes of Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera in the midfield.
Upfront, though, all eyes will be on Marcus Rashford, who has solidified his stature as a wonderkid in his second season as part of the first-team setup at United. It will be interesting, however, to see who starts wide for United, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan likely to be one of the two.
The other spot could go to Jesse Lingard, solely based on the shift he puts in every time and his ability to press high, something Juan Mata cannot provide quite at the same level.
Ajax have demolished sides that have held back against them and Jose Mourinho will have to leave his recent habit of setting his United side up defensively if he is to triumph in Stockholm.
Probable Lineup ( 4-3-3 ): Romero; Valencia, Jones, Blind, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Rashford, Lingard
1. The Europa League or UEFA Cup, as it was previously known, is the only trophy that has eluded Manchester United up until now.
2. Unstoppable Force meets Immovable Object – It is set to be a similar predicament as Ajax have failed to score just once in 14 Europa League games this season while United have shut their opponents out 7 times in the same number of games in the competition so far.
3. Marouane Fellaini scored in the semi-final second-leg against Celta Vigo. The Belgian has scored in two other semi-finals so far for United, with the Red Devils going on to capture both those trophies.
4. The Golden Boy – Marcus Rashford has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 3 Europa League matches.
5. Jose Mourinho is undefeated in his managerial career against Ajax – six wins out of six. However, all of them have come in the Champions League during his tenure as the manager of Real Madrid.
Player to Watch
There cannot possibly be another player to watch. Granted the whole Ajax team is full of gems and can do massive damage in Stockholm, but it is Rashford who carries the hopes of the entire United fanbase on Wednesday and the academy graduate has so far been exemplary, always in attitude, if not in performance.
A big performance in a big final could really get Mourinho thinking on whether Rashford deserves to be United’s number one choice upfront for the next season. It will be interesting to see how the final pans out. But, Rashford, for one, is likely to be more than up for it.
Ajax 1 – 2 Manchester United
Now, Ajax are a deadly side in terms of attack. But their defensive profligacy almost cost them in the second-leg in the semi-final against Lyon. And it may come back to haunt them at Friends Arena. Manchester United are likely to be playing on the counter and waiting to pounce as the opportunity presents itself.
We are more inclined to a 1-1 draw with the winner decided in Extra-time. However, United will definitely be wanting it more due to the high stakes of a Champions League spot and the Red Devils will have more experience to dip their toes into, something, perhaps the only thing Ajax lack at this point.