Come 7.45pm (Nigerian Time), all eyes will be glued to screens as the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden plays host to the finals of Europe’s 2nd elite club cup competition, the Europa League. It promises to be a fascinating night as Dutch side Ajax take on English giants Manchester United with more than being crowned champions at stake, it’s a game that will also gift an automatic slot for the winner into the more lucrative Uefa Champions’ league group stages next season and a Super Cup game against the winner of the Champions League.
Likely Line ups: Manchester United– Romero, Valencia, Blind, Smalling, Darmian, Fellaini, Pogba, Herrera, Mhkitaryan, Lingard, Rashford
Ajax– Onana, Veltman, Riedewald, Sanchez, De Ligt, Schone, Ziyech, Klassen, Traore, Younes, Dolberg
Ajax last won this competition in 1992 back when it was known as the Uefa Cup whilst for Manchester United, this is the only trophy missing from their illustrious cabinet. The events of Monday night at the Manchester Arena where over 20 lives were lost will hang like a cloud around this game as UEFA has granted permission for the teams to wear a black armband in respect of the victims but it is expected that the United players will shake off the trauma of the incident and make this a memorable final for their fans and the City.
Today’s game will be the first final in Europe for an Ajax side with an average age of 21 years since the nineties, Ajax go into this fixture having not won in their last six away European games and they are up against a Jose Mourinho’s side who have not lost away from home in their European matches this season and the entire assessment of the manager’s first season at United hinging on the outcome of this game. A win for Manchester United tonight papers the cracks and presents this as a good season with two trophies in the cabinet and a Champion’s league slot secured whilst a defeat will raise questions especially with their unimpressive performance in the League.
KEY MEN: With 23 goals and 8 assists recorded this season, 19 year old Danish Striker Kasper Dolberg is Ajax’s hope for goals and victory on Wednesday night and up against a changed Manchester United defense which will be missing key defender Eric Bailly with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling battling for the chance to pair former Ajax boy Daley Blind, the pacy forward will keep the United back-line busy all game.
For Manchester United, it will be hard to look beyond their own 19 year old talent, Marcus Rashford, the young sensation who burst onto the scene last season has had a mixed season but following injury to leading marksman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford has stepped up to the plate with crucial goals in the quarter final tie with Anderlecht and only goal in the first leg semi final tie at Celta Vigo. His pace and movement will be relied upon and with Paul Pogba and Mhkitaryan providing assists, Rashford should be able to find gaps against a very inexperienced back-line.
Both teams have met on four occasions in the past winning two apiece, Ajax’s Manager Peter Bosz’s will lead his youthful side out on the night after finishing second in the league behind Feyenoord and leading the team to a major European final in less than a year in charge, for Jose Mourinho, who has won the Champions league twice with two different teams and also winning the Europa League (then UEFA Cup) in 2003 with Porto, he has won 11 out of the 13 cup finals in which he has been involved and his winning record is why he was signed by Manchester United, anything short of victory tonight will raise doubts over the abilities of the ‘special one’ especially following his below par performances over the last two years.
It is a game that should see experience up against youth, control against zeal, a mean United defense against a free scoring Ajax side, it promises to be explosive, a lot of predictions have been made including that of the infamous cow who with a 85% record has given the tie to Ajax but I fail to see how Jose will let this slip and I predict a 2-0 victory for Manchester United.