Ajax vs Manchester United Preview

Ajax Amsterdam and Manchester United lock horns in the final of the UEFA Europa League.
Ajax Amsterdam and Manchester United lock horns in the final of the UEFA Europa League.
UEFA Europa League Final | Wednesday 24 May | Friends Arena (Stockholm) | 20:45

Sweden will host both Ajax and Manchester United’s biggest game of the season when the two giants clash in the final of the UEFA Europa League.
Unfortunately, Sweden’s greatest ever footballer, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, will take no part in the match after the Man United striker suffered a knee injury a month ago. 

This is Ajax's second final in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, having won in the 1992 UEFA Cup Final against Torino. 

Manchester United, meanwhile, will play in their first final in the UEFA Cup/Europa League. The two sides have met four times in European competitions, all in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, with a record of two wins each. 

However, Manchester United eliminated Ajax on both occasions, 2–1 on aggregate in the 1976/77 UEFA Cup first round, and 3–2 on aggregate in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League round of 32.

To Win (90mins)
Ajax 7/2
Draw 49/20
Man United 8/10

Ajax

Ajax, who could only finish runner-up in the Dutch Eredivisie, have been excellent this campaign. Club manager, Peter Bosz, has done a superb job, promoting youth players while also mixing it up with a bit of experience. Much like Monaco’s team this year.

These young talented footballers really deserve some sort of silverware this season. However, if they were to finish runner-up in the UEFA Europa League, they can hold their heads up high after achieving much more than what was expected from them.

Last weekend, Ajax set a record for fielding the youngest starting XI in Eredivisie history, with 24-year-old captain Davy Klaassen the oldest player in a team boasting an average age of 20 years and 139 days.

The Sons of the Gods play with good team spirit, they’re fast and they certainly fear no team. Ajax won Group G with 14 points from six games, and then went on to claim emphatic aggregate wins over Legia Warsaw (1-0), FC Copenhagen (3-2), FC Schalke (4-3) and most recently Lyon (5-4). Notice how the Dutch giants are usually involved in high-scoring encounters.

A few names stand out in this talented young squad. Along with Klaasen who has 20 goals across all competitions, Kasper Dolberg has been Ajax’s best player. The 19-year old Danish international has played a part in 30 goals for Ajax this season, scoring 23 goals and providing seven assists to his teammates. He may be contracted to Ajax for now, but Dolberg is hot on the market, attracting interest even from their Europa League final opponents. However, Dolberg squashed all speculation linking him with a move away.

"I will stay next season at Ajax," he said. "I want to get better and score more goals."

Six of Dolberg's goals this season have come in the Europa League and he’ll be hoping to add to his prolific tally for the campaign.



Manchester United

After what has been a downfall of a season, Manchester United could turn it around in this match. The Red Devils finished sixth in the Premier League, but winning the final of the Europa League will see Jose Mourinho’s men make their return to the UEFA Champions League.

The Reds haven’t been at their brilliant best in the Europa League, finishing runner-up in Group A. The fact that United haven’t been at their best and still find themselves in the final of one of Europe’s biggest competitions, shows that they’re a tough team to beat.

Mourinho’s charges recently went 25 matches unbeaten in the Premier League, but that feat was ended when they had to put their full attention into the Europa League and gave some of their star players a weekend break.

After hammering Saint-Etienne 4-0 over two legs in the Round of 32, Man United sort of scraped their way into the final, beating FC Rostov (2-1), then Anderlecht (3-2) which went into extra-time, and lastly beating Celta Vigo (2-1) in the semi-finals to book their place in Stockholm.

Mourinho has won all six of his previous meetings against Ajax, which came in the Champions League during his time as Real Madrid coach.

“It means nothing. A final is a final and I played Ajax with Real Madrid all the six matches. It will be difficult. They are a young team, strong team and they finish their league this weekend [last weekend]," Mourinho said in an interview.

In Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s absence, Marcus Rashford has done a superb job leading the Red Devils’ front line. Funny enough, it was Ibra who played in this stadium’s first match when Sweden beat England 4-2, with the United powerhouse scoring all four goals.

Rashford offers something different than Ibrahimovic to the United line-up. The young Englishman bursts through defences with his blistering pace and as of recently, does a pretty good job in a dead-ball situation.

From the players Mourinho has available, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the highest scorer in the United camp, netting five goals in the tournament. The Armenian international has used the Europa League to showcase his talent, proving to be a menace in midfield for the Manchester giants.

Probable line-ups:

Ajax: 4-3-3
Onana; Tete, De Ligt, Sanchez, Riedewald; Ziyech, Klaassen, Schone; Traore, Dolberg, Younes.

Manchester United: 4-2-3-1
Romero; Valencia, Jones, Blind, Darmian; Herrera, Fellaini; Mkhitaryan, Pogba, Martial; Rashford.

Prediction: Manchester United (8/10)
Given what’s at stake, Manchester United should find a way to come out on top. By Mourinho resting players in the last few weeks, shows that he is going all out to win this trophy and earn a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League. They could even do it in 90 minutes. Ajax will be a tough test but my money is on United to humble the young, energetic side. Take the Red Devils to win the match at 8/10.

Written by Jesse Nagel.