Finally the Europa League final is here
Had someone offered European glory to Jose Mourinho in his first season as United manager, make no mistake he would have taken it without a moment of hesitation. The league failure will quickly be forgotten as United would fulfill their goal of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League while also lifting the only trophy they haven’t won yet in their rich history.
For Ajax, this is the first European final in over 20 years. Peter Bosz will have his boys playing just as they’ve been playing all year. Adventurous, attacking football in the team that is full of youth and potential as well.
Before anyone writes off the Amsterdamers, it’s worth noting that they were good enough to overcome the likes of Lyon and Schalke 04 on their way to their final. They failed to win the domestic league this time around, but Ajax have won the hearts of many with their performances mostly because of the team’s age.
This being the first major final for Peter Bosz, it goes without saying that it’s Jose Mourinho who will have the status of a favorite considering his experience in three European finals with Porto and Inter Milan before this.
In terms of tactics, squad quality, experience and motivation it is of course Manchester United who are the huge favorites for tomorrow. The only thing going in Ajax’s way is their match schedule prior to this game which allowed them to take some much needed rest. Another thing that could serve their cause is their huge underdog status which puts all the pressure on their opponents as they’re the ones that need this win the most.
In terms of injuries and suspensions Ajax will only miss Nick Viergever because of the red card he received in the semi final against Lyon. This means that 17-year-old center back Matthijs de Ligt will partner up with Davinson Sanchez at the heart of the Ajax’s high pushing defence.
United will miss their arguably best defender in Eric Bailly as the Ivorian got himself sent off as well in the semi final home game against Celta Vigo. Zlatan Ibrahimovic ended his season through injury in the quarter final game against Anderlecht, while Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw and Ashley Young are also out until the rest of the season.
Chris Smalling and Fellaini’s fitness will be monitored until hours before kick off, as Mourinho wants the duo available for this game. All these troubles could see Phil Jones pair up with former Ajax star Daley Blind in what could be an emotional game for the Dutch international. Having impressed in the few starts he’s been given towards the end of the Premier League season, Axel Tuanzebe could also be given a chance, albeit from the bench.
Another former Ajax player, Timothy Fosu – Mensah has returned from injury and will be an option on the bench for Jose, having completed a full 90 minutes in the final round against Crystal Palace.
Tactically, the game is relatively easy to predict. Mourinho will like his team to be responsible and patient, relying on individual efforts of his pacey forwards to score the all important first goal, while Ajax, as always, will look to play an open, free flowing football from start to finish.
What could cost Ajax the victory is the high positioning of the central defenders and their inability to recover from a quick transition in the middle of the park. Something that Mourinho and his teams have taken advantage of countless of times during his illustrious career.
United’s shape will vary from 6-2-1-1 to 4-2-3-1 depending on how much Ajax take the pressing bait. The only chance for Ajax is if they scored a quick goal, which would make Mourinho to alter his plans and thus create a confusion. The pressure is really big on Manchester United to win as this could seriously mess up their plans for next season.
Verdict: The individual quality of Rashford, Mkhitaryan, Pogba and Lingard will force Ajax to make too many adjustments. This could be a too big of a challenge for the young lads who did well just to get here. Should Fellaini play tomorrow they will probably see them get bullied by the likes of him, Pogba and Michael Carrick in the middle of the park.
United to win 2:0 with a goal in each half.