Event: Europa Cup final
Date: Wednesday, 24th May 2017
Kick Off: 7:45pm (Nigerian time)
Venue: Friends Arena, Stockholm, Sweden.
Tonight’s clash means more than just silverware for both clubs. Aside the glamour and prestige that comes with winning, both gladiators know they must lift the trophy if they are to automatically reach the Champions League next season.
United, who are looking to lift the Europa League for the first time – finished their Premier League campaign in sixth, with Mourinho highlighting the European competition as their most likely path to playing Champions League football.
Ajax, meanwhile, ended the Eredivisie season in second after losing out to Feyenoord on the last day, but the Amsterdam outfit are already guaranteed a spot in the Champions League play-offs. Their last outing came on May 14 when a side with an average age of 20 years and 139 days beat Willem II 3-1 in Tilburg. The Amsterdam giants finished a point behind champions Feyenoord. However, with a group stage spot on offer, Peter Bosz’s side can make their summer schedule a little lighter with victory in Sweden.
On the other hand, Mourinho rested a raft of key players as United ended their domestic campaign, finishing sixth in the Premier League. The turnover meant debuts for Demetri Mitchell and Josh Harrop – and it proved a dream day for 21-year-old Harrop as he struck the opening goal. Pogba increased the lead and late on Angel Gomes came on to become the first Premier League player born this century.
Ajax have left-back Nick Viergever banned, while fellow defender Daley Sinkgraven has resumed training after a recent knee injury but is not deemed ready to feature. Lasse Schone is expected to be the only player over the age of 25 in their starting XI. Davy Klaassen will skipper Peter Bosz’s side, with Chelsea loanee Bertrand Traore set to line-up in attack.
Mourinho – who cancelled his pre-match news conference after the attack in Manchester – has been complaining about the amount of games he has had to play since at least March. He has rotated his squad heavily in the Premier League in the last month.
Eric Bailly is suspended after his red card in the semi-final win over Celta Vigo., while Mourinho has confirmed Sergio Romero will keep his place in goal over David de Gea. Marouane Fellaini (hamstring) and Chris Smalling (toe) trained on the eve of the match after sitting out the Premier League finale against Crystal Palace. A serious knee injury prevents Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who scored four goals against England in the first game at the Friends Arena in 2012 and will have a statue of himself built outside the ground – from playing in his home country, while Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young and Luke Shaw are long-term absentees.
The 35-year-old may have played his last game for United after suffering a serious knee injury earlier this month.
KEY STATISTICS TO BEAR IN MIND AS THE COUNTDOWN TICKS AWAY
-This is both clubs’ fifth meeting in UEFA competitions. The past four produced two wins for either team (two games in the first round of the 1976/77 UEFA Cup and two legs in the round of 32 during the 2011/12 Europa League campaign).
-This will be the third meeting between English and Dutch sides in a European final (also Spurs v Feyenoord in 1974 and Ipswich v AZ in 1981, both in the UEFA Cup).
-Ajax’s Bertrand Traoré is on loan with the club from Man Utd’s English rivals Chelsea. The Burkina Faso forward made his Chelsea debut under Mourinho in a 4-0 UEFA Champions League group stage victory over Maccabi Tel-Aviv in September 2015.
-Mourinho faced Ajax six times as Real Madrid coach, winning all six games by an aggregate score of 20–2.
– Just two of the last 16 UEFA Cup/Europa League finals have been decided by a penalty shootout; 10 have been won in 90 minutes with a further four being decided in extra time. (Sevilla beating Espanyol on penalties in the 2006/07 edition and then doing the same to Benfica in the 2013/14 campaign); 10 have been won in 90 minutes with a further four being decided in extra time.
-There have been nine goals scored across the last two Europa League finals (an average of 4.5 per game).
-Ajax forward Amin Younes (73) has completed more dribbles in the Europa League this season than the next two best players combined (United’s Paul Pogba, 37 and Ajax’s on-loan Chelsea striker Bertrand Traore, 31).
-Marcus Rashford has been directly involved in each of Manchester United’s last four goals in the Europa League (two goals and two assists).
-Hakim Ziyech has recorded four assists in his last three Europa League appearances for Ajax.
-No player has recorded more shots on target this season in this competition than Bertrand Traore (16); only Zenit’s Giuliano (14) has been directly involved in more goals this term than Traore (8 – four goals and four assists).
-Only Patrick Kluivert and Ton Blanker (both 7) have scored more goals than Kasper Dolberg (6) as a teenager for Ajax in European competition.
-Ajax are in their first European final since their penalty shootout defeat to Juventus during the 1995/96 Champions League campaign.
-The Europa League final will be played exactly 22 years after Ajax claimed their last European trophy by beating Milan in the 1995 Champions League final; that game featured Justin Kluivert’s father, Patrick, and Daley Blind’s father, Danny.
-The Dutch club have lifted the trophy in six of their last eight major European finals whilst the Red Devils have won four of their six; those two defeats coming in the most recent appearances, however (2008/09 & 2010/11 Champions League finals versus Barcelona).
-Man United have reached the final of the Europa League/UEFA Cup for the first time in their history.
-United have gone 10 matches unbeaten in this competition (W7 D3); conceding just four goals in that time.
-Both sides will be officially backed by just 9,500 fans each.
-Man United can secure a place in next season’s Champions League and add the only major trophy they have never won by beating Dutch side Ajax.
-Jose Mourinho’s side finished sixth in the Premier League but will join Chelsea, Tottenham and Man City in the group stage if they win.
-The match comes two days after a suicide bombing in Manchester that killed 22 people.
-United will wear black armbands. A minute’s silence will also be held before the match.
-Liverpool have also qualified for the Champions League after finishing fourth in the Premier League, but must win a two-legged play-off to reach the groups.
-Ajax have not played in a European final since 1996, while defeat for United would cost the club £50m in missed revenue.
-The rest of the tickets for the 50,000 capacity stadium went on general sale and to local organisers, national associations, commercial partners, broadcasters and corporate hospitality.
-This will be Man United’s 64th game of the season in all competitions, eight more than Ajax, whose total of 56 is a club record for a single season.
-This will be the first time since 2002 that a Dutch club has reached a UEFA Cup/Europa League final (Feyenoord); Man United are the third English side in five seasons to reach the final (Chelsea in 2013 & Liverpool in 2016).
-Ajax have lost three of their last four matches played in the UEFA Cup/Europa League against English opposition (W1) whilst United have lost two of their last three in this competition versus Dutch clubs (W1).
Jose Mourinho (Man Utd) couldn’t speak to the media in the aftermath of Monday’s Manchester terror attack. UEFA accepted a request from United to cancel their pre-match press conference – originally scheduled to take place on Tuesday evening – following the attack. The following is taken from a statement released by the club.
“We’re all very sad about the tragic events of last night; we can’t take out of our minds and hearts the victims and their families. We have a job to do and fly to Sweden to do that job. It’s a pity we cannot fly with the happiness we always have before a big game. I know, even during my short time here, that the people of Manchester will pull together as one.”
Peter Bosz (Ajax): “I would send my players directly to the doctor if they weren’t nervous, especially because it’s their first final. It’s completely normal to be nervous, I just have to make sure that the nerves don’t get to them. We have a chance to beat Manchester United if we impose our own game which we have developed this season and which I like to call the Ajax way of playing. I know [my players] are young so we have to prepare them. It makes my job more interesting.”
FORM GUIDE (all competitions, most recent first)
Man Utd: WDLDLW
VERDICT: Ajax have every reason to feel quietly confident because they have claimed some impressive scalps on the road to Stockholm, including decent sides like Lyon and Schalke. Bosz’s young side have played attacking, attractive and often bold football to get to the final; it would be great and fitting to see that approach rewarded with a trophy. This is obviously an incredibly young side but they will have learnt a lot from being edged out of the Eredivisie title race on the final day. What impact that will have had on them in the short term remains to be seen.
Major trophies are Mourinho’s professional sustenance – his career has reached such heights thanks to the way his teams perform at these moments. United have seldom seized the initiative in their biggest matches this term; will they once again look to contain and counter or will they aim to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and prey on their opponents’ inexperience? Mourinho’s season has been condensed to this one fixture for weeks now – expect a trick or two up his sleeve, expect a detailed tactical plan. It’s a match of great contrasts and quite difficult to call.
What we do know is Mourinho has often got the best out of his side in the big occasions this season.
If it becomes a wide-open game then Ajax have the goals in them to make it competitive and Mourinho knows that, so expect him to keep it tight and exploit the youngsters when they over-commit by using Rashford’s pace.
Ajax are not as strong physically as United and this is where they will likely come undone coupled with the experience of their adversaries. Also, don’t forget Mourinho’s espertise as it concerns final matches in competitions.
I am tilting towards a Man Utd win whether it be during regulation time or not remains to be seen.
RECOMMENDED BETS: 1X or 1x & GG (over 90 minutes)