Firstly, I must say was there a scarcity of confetti in Stockholm that the Manchester United celebrations got none to celebrate such an historic feat. I must say Kudos to the young, energetic and aggressive Ajax side who stood tall all through Ninety Minutes in trying to emulate other successful all conquering Ajax sides of many years past.
In most previews of this Europa League Finals; it was tagged a match pitting experience vs youth; well if memory serves me right the two times this has happened this season; experience has found a way to shine through; case in question Monaco’s two legged affair against the Old Lady of Turin. A careful analysis of the events on the pitch of the Friend’s Arena in Stockholm for me seemed more of like Manchester United laid an ambush for Ajax; you can play you free flowing, passing football, but you wouldn’t get a clear sight of goal all game.
Manchester United have now conveniently snuck into the group stage of next season’s Champions League; more or less nullifying the old adage that says ”never put all your eggs in one basket”. Here are my thoughts generally on the Final match as a whole:
United avoided Pressing
You can say what you want about Jose Mourinho; positive or negative, the man knows how to win and drill a side to get a result from a one off game. Like it or not; defending remains an integral part of the game and it goes hand in hand with attacking. United knew that they didn’t have the legs to press this young Ajax team up top nor the energy to chase them all over the pitch; so whenever Ajax chose to build from the back, Mourinho’s side dropped into their half into two banks of four; more or less daring them to play through the well organized wall or is it a bus this days. At every instance; United ensured they had opportunities to double team Ajax’s better ball playing individuals; whilst nullifying the space to pass through them. It was quite frustrating as it restricted Ajax to just three shots on target with non troubling Romero in the United Goal.
Once United saw they had been able to force Ajax to play the way they wanted it was easy to leave Marcus Rashford up top; to try to curtail the freedom and confidence Davinson Sanchez was growing into; as a ”ball playing center back”; the Red Devils were more comfortable with him trying to orchestrate things from the back as against the likes of Schone and Klaassen.
Chris Smalling: dropping down the pecking order
Over the course of the weekend and the week leading to the Europa League Final; many United fans prayed for Chris Smalling not to be included in the starting eleven; surprise, surprise; come match day he is listed to pair Daley Blind in Central Defense; when most believed Phil Jones will get the nod ahead of him. What was most shocking was that without Wayne Rooney and Micheal Carrick in the starting Line up; Smalling automatically takes over the captain’s arm band; but for some strange reason; Antonio Valencia captained United to glory on the night. Is this a signal that Smalling as fallen down the pecking order? Is this Jose’s way of telling him, he isn’t that reliable anymore and cannot be trusted? Whatever, it may have been; Chris Smalling did put up a solid performance on the night; probably is best performance all season.
In Traore, Younes and Sanchez; I see the next Superstars
Yes; Bertrand Traore is a Chelsea player and after such a successful loan spell at Ajax; I am sure Antonio Conte would have been monitoring his progress; hoping to see how he may be able to add that extra to a title winning Chelsea side. Although, if he is to fit into Conte’s side; he will have to brush up on his tactical discipline; this is what makes the likes of Willian and Pedro; important in the Chelsea core. This is not to take anything away from his undoubted talent, but its simply stating there’s still work to be done.
Davinson Sanchez is a quick, strong and physical defender, raw on the edges with a lot of brushing up and refinement needed to make him the next big defensive superstar. He needs to stay at Ajax to develop his game; no need rushing out to some of Europe’s elite, who would not afford you the time to learn and refine your game; he can be massive over the next 2-3 years if he stays at Ajax.
Amin Younes reminded me of former Ajax winger; Marc Overmars, with his pace and trickery; but his decision making needs to improve greatly if he would like to reach the heights of the former diminutive Dutch winger.
Marouane Fellaini: My Man of the Match
See as I am typing this I am having to check myself to be sure that I am actually doing this; but you have got to say that had to be his best performance ever in a Manchester United shirt; he was totally unplayable, Ajax couldn’t handle him.
I remember saying it this morning in the studio that this is the kind of game Mourinho would start Fellaini; social media went wild seeing him in the starting line up ahead of Micheal Carrick.
I never knew this day would come; I am sure my Late Dad would be turning in his grave now; but it has, Marouane Fellaini, Please take a bow.
Jose is still Special After all
Forget what the psychic cow predicted or what the nerds at whoscored.com said; love him or hate him; the man knows how to win. It has been a tough eighteen months or so for Jose Mourinho; from the unfortunate debacle and alleged mutiny at Chelsea; to his damaged reputation as an unyielding task master. His me/us against the world mentality always puts him and his team in the line of fire; issues with players fitness and commitment have largely swung in his favour in the long run and he has the trophies to show for it.
It is hard to pin-point where he ranks among the greats in world club football; but it has to be very high; Four European trophies with three different clubs must put him close to the top; series of league titles and cups; must gradually have him hitching towards the greats.
What’s past is past; a new chapter and potential legacy may just be upon us; Jose can kick on from this and build his own legacy along side Busby and Ferguson; its a long road ahead and it would be hard to bet against Jose not leaving a huge mark in the United trophy cabinet when his tenure ends.