Manchester United’s entire season has come down to one single moment as Red Devils prepare to lock horns with Dutch giants Ajax in the Europa League final at the Friends Arena in Stockholm. Two sides play for more than European silverware as the winner of the competition will also gain a group stage place in the Champions league next year.
Ajax to end the two-decade wait
It’s been more than two decades actually, as Ajax have been without a European trophy for full 22 years. It was in 1995 when Dutch giants defeated Italian powerhouse AC Milan and pipped them to the Champions League glory. Since that time, Ajax played – and lost – another final, in the following season (1996), against Juventus and the current squad is highly motivated to end the lengthy wait and bring glory days back to Amsterdam. Ajax have had an exciting Europa League campaign behind them thus far as they have been one of the most exciting sides to watch in the competition. Incredibly enough, despite their eye-pleasing attacking football, Ajax have lost three of their last six Europa League matches which only makes it incredible to think they managed to get in the final on such a run. Ajax overcame Legia in the first knockout stage before dispatching FC Copenhagen in the round of Last 16. The quarterfinal saw them fight against Schalke in an exciting two-legged tie, but the real excitement came in the semi-finals where Ajax grabbed their place in the final showpiece thanks to a 4-1 home win, despite losing 3-1 in the return leg. Nominal hosts in the match will not deviate from their plan and will be hoping Kasper Dolberg will be able to continue his incredible form in the competition. The 19-year-old has defied age with his 6 Europa League goals thus far and will definitely be the one to watch in the final.
Experienced defender Nick Viergever is suspended for the occasion after picking up a red card against Lyon in France and Kevin Tete is expected to deputise at full-back.
Can Manchester United save the season?
Despite the busy summer of heavy investment and high-profile arrivals, the likes of Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan or Zlatan Ibrahimovic failed to help Manchester United finish the Premier League season in top four, let alone compete for title. The Red Devils did end up adding the Community Shield and League Cup, but the two trophies are hardly enough to dub the Manchester United season successful. Having realised his team was about to miss out on Champions League, Jose Mourinho decided to surrender his Premier League fight and focus all of the attention to Europa League. The congested schedule caused plenty of problems for Mourinho’s injury-depleted side, but Red Devils still mustered enough strength to overcome difficulties and earn their place in the Europa League final. The Red Devils are not fighting for silverware, they are exclusively fighting for the Champions League as it would guarantee more investments and a better position in the forthcoming transfer market. Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann is one of the high-profile targets, who is thought to be waiting for the news from Stockholm before deciding on whether he will be joining the Old Trafford club or not. Jose Mourinho has rested a number of first-team players in recent weeks in the Premier League and will be hoping their freshness could make a difference at the Friends Arena.
Influential defender Eric Bailly picked up a red card in the second leg of the semi-final against Celta Vigo, whereas another defender Chris Smalling is thought to be having an injury problem. Marouane Fellaini remains a doubt due to his muscle problem, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luke Shaw, Marcos Roko and Ashley Young will not take any part in the game.
Ajax boast a vibrant and an exciting young squad capable of causing major problems to any side, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United included. The Portuguese will try to push his way through to the Champions League spot and will have experience and knowledge on his side which he hopes will be enough.
Top pick: Manchester United 1.90 (10/11) @Betfair
Alternative pick 1: Both teams to score – yes 2.05 (21/10) @Ladbrokes
Alternative pick 2: Over 2.5 goals 2.25 (5/4) @Coral