Wednesday night sees Ajax and Manchester United lock horns in the 2016/17 Europa League final at the Friends Arena.
It’s a game that could rescue the season of Jose Mourinho’s side or ignite Ajax’s resurgence in Europe.
Ajax desperate to end wait for European silverware
Ajax’s famed youngsters could etch their name in history if they can mark their rise to prominence with a European trophy, while Manchester United are hoping to win their third piece of silverware this season and book a place in the Champions League for 2017/18. Ajax are the underdogs given the inexperience in the squad compared to a United squad boasting stellar talent from Europe, but they will be desperate for European glory again – 22 years after their last triumph.
Peter Bosz’s Ajax side finished second in the Dutch Eredivisie with 81 points from 34 games this season, losing just three times and conceding only 23 goals. They boasted the best away record in the division, but haven’t managed the same consistency in Europe. Ajax were knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers, dropping into the Europa League where they have fallen short on a number of occasions. Ajax’s journey to the final has seen them without a win on the road since September 2016.
Canny Man Utd could take advantage of naïve Ajax
The Dutch side almost spurned a 4-1 aggregate advantage in the semi-finals against Olympique Lyonnais, losing 3-1 in the away leg and riding their luck in the finale of the match. The young side have been fascinating to watch in the competition, but there is a naïve element to their approach away from home that could see them fall short to a canny United side with an expert pragmatist in charge who has won every major trophy in his coaching career.
Ajax have been whipping boys in the Champions League for many years, but to have the chance to win its sister competition with a side that could develop together for years to come may prove to be the motivation needed to get a result. Manchester United are no slouches, however. Jose Mourinho, a serial title-winner and multiple cup winner, doesn’t lose finals and won’t underestimate Ajax. He’s more likely to target their flaws than play to the strengths of his own side, playing direct to beat Ajax’s high press and hitting them on the counter when they turnover possession.
A robust approach from Manchester United is to be expected to halt Ajax’s playing style and disrupt their build-up. United will use their superior aerial threats from set pieces and from balls coming into box to try and breach the Dutch side’s defence, but goals have been hard to come by at times. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this week’s clash go to extra time, but the experience of the United players is likely to see them coming out on top. Man Utd are 2/5 to win the Europa League as a result.
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