Ajax vs Manchester United
League: UEFA Europa League Final
Date: Tuesday, 23rd May 2017
Time: Kick off at 19:45 GMT
Venue: Friends Arena
The Friends Arena in Stockholm will host the 2017 Europa League final on May 24, with 20-time English champions Manchester United taking on Dutch giants Ajax in what promises to be a fascinating clash in Sweden.
As well as European silverware being on offer, the winner of the final will gain an automatic spot in the group stage of the 2017-18 Champions League.
The Europa League final will be played 22 years to the day since Ajax claimed their last European trophy – overcoming AC Milan in the 1995 Champions League final. The Dutch giants also reached the final of the 1996 Champions League, but lost on penalties to Juventus.
It is the 15th time that Ajax have been present in the final of a UEFA competition – winning 10 of their previous 14 – but it is their first since 1996, with this young, vibrant team threatening to take the club back to its glory days.
Ajax have, without question, brought the entertainment factor to the Europa League this season. They have had more attempts on goal (225) and more attempts on target (95) than any other team in this season’s competition, out-scoring Man United 24-23 en route to the showpiece final.
It is the first time since 2002 that a Dutch club have reached the final of this particular competition (Feyenoord), but Ajax have actually lost three of their last six matches in the Europa League, which makes their presence in the conclusion of the tournament even more incredible.
Ajax recorded an incredible 4-1 victory in the first leg of their semi-final in Amsterdam, and despite losing 3-1 at Lyon in the return, managed to squeeze into the final of the competition by the narrowest of margins.
Seeking their first continental silverware in 22 years, Ajax are the underdogs entering this week’s clash in Sweden, but it could well be the start of something extremely special for this talented group of youngsters.
It would be fair to say that the Europa League was an inconvenience for Man United and head coach Jose Mourinho earlier this season, but the competition has become imperative as the club look to return to the Champions League.
While the chance to secure a European trophy is always important, it is the offer of Champions League football that has drawn the most attention. It is almost a playoff fixture for Man United – win and a return to the European elite will arrive.
Man United have actually only won six of their previous 11 European finals, and have lost their last three. This is the only European trophy that the 20-time English champions are yet to win, and they will be looking to join Ajax, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Juventus in completing a full set of major UEFA club trophies.
After progressing through the group stages, Man United overcame Saint-Etienne and Rostov to set up a quarter-final with Anderlecht. The English giants needed extra-time to overcome the Belgian club, but Marcus Rashford struck the winner to secure a 3-2 aggregate success.
When Man United won 1-0 at Celta Vigo in the first leg of their semi-final, the Red Devils seemingly had one foot in the final. They made hard work of the return, however, with Celta levelling at 1-1 late on to set up a grandstand finish at Old Trafford.
As it transpired, a 1-1 draw in the second leg was enough to progress on aggregate, but Man United’s form has suffered in recent weeks. Indeed, their 2-0 win over Crystal Palace at the weekend was their first victory in the Premier League for almost one month.
It has been a strange first season for Mourinho at Old Trafford, but leading the club back into the Champions League would certainly make up for a disappointing Premier League campaign. The Portuguese has rested a number of his first-team stars in recent weeks ahead of the Europa League final, and he will be hoping their freshness plays a key role in Sweden.
Ajax will be without experienced Dutch defender Nick Viergever, who picked up a red card in the second leg of their semi-final with Lyon in France. As a result, Kenny Tete is expected to be given the nod at full-back.
Head coach Peter Bosz has no fresh injury concerns entering the match, however, meaning that in-demand Kasper Dolberg should continue in the final third with support from on-loan Chelsea forward Bertrand Traore and Amin Younes.
Justin Kluivert, the son of former Netherlands striker Patrick Kluivert, should start on the bench for the Dutch giants.
As for Man United, Mourinho will be without the services of Eric Bailly, who picked up a red card in the second leg of their semi-final with Celta Vigo.
Chris Smalling could also miss out due to “a small problem”, meaning that Phil Jones is expected to partner Daley Blind at the heart of the defence, with Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian operating in the full-back positions.
Marouane Fellaini remains a doubt after picking up a muscular problem against Southampton last week, although it appears likely that the Belgian will be fit to start alongside Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba in central midfield.
Rashford will lead the line with support from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, while Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial are battling for the third position in attack.
Sergio Romero will keep his place between the sticks, and the possible omission of David de Gea from the matchday squad could signal the end of the Spaniard’s career at Old Trafford as Real Madrid circle once again.
Ajax possible starting lineup:
Onana; Tete, De Ligt, Sanchez, Veltman; Klaassen, Schone, Ziyech; Traore, Dolberg, Younes
Manchester United possible starting lineup:
Romero; Valencia, Blind, Jones, Darmian; Herrera, Fellaini, Pogba; Lingard, Rashford, Mkhitaryan
Ajax vs Manchester United Head to Head [H2H]:
23rd Feb 12 International – Europa League Final Stages Manchester United : Ajax 1:2
16th Feb 12 International – Europa League Final Stages Ajax : Manchester United 0:2
There have been under 2.5 goals scored in Man Utd‘s last 7 games (UEFA Europa League).
Man Utd are undefeated in their last 10 matches (UEFA Europa League).
Manchester United to Win.