By John Ryan
- Manchester United face Ajax Amsterdam in Europa League final as they look to secure Champions League football for the 2017/18 season
The attack in Manchester on Monday night has put everything into perspective. Manchester, a very welcoming city for people of all race, religion, creed or colour stands defiant in the wake of an atrocity which targeted young people enjoying a concert.
For ten months of the year this city opens its proverbial doors to those who love football and the opportunity to watch Manchester United, Manchester City or whatever club you want to watch is open to all.
There is so much to love about the city and the football is just one aspect to its proud history.
Manchester has always bounced back from tragedy and Manchester United football club epitomizes that. Hopefully the world will enjoy the Europa League Final and those who travel to Stockholm will get there safely.
Jose Has Been Focusing On This Game For Weeks
Jose Mourinho has been waiting for this game for three weeks and his behaviour at the last three Premier League games was as though he had no interest in each.
Defeats at the Emirates and White Hart Lane seemed to be more focused on avoiding injury and fulfilling the fixture than going for a win.
Against Crystal Palace he sent out a team full of youth who played with energy and movement and gave the fans hope for next season.
There is a lot of talk about summer transfers most notably Antoine Griezmann who this week said there is a sixty per cent chance of him joining United. With a Champions League place for the winner, a lot of next season’s possible success depends on this game.
Strong Links Between Ajax And United
Ajax are past giants of European football. With three European Cups in a row between 1971-1973 but they had to wait twenty two years for their next win in that competition.
Their Manager on that night was Louis Van Gaal who later managed Manchester United.
Their goalkeeper in that final was Edwin Van Der Saar who also won the same trophy with United in Moscow’s rain thirteen years later.
Current United player Daley Blind is a former Ajax player as is injured veteran Zlatan Ibrahimović.
With thirty three league titles Ajax are Holland’s premier football team, ten titles ahead of nearest rivals PSV Eindhoven.
Manchester United are England’s most successful club. With three European cups to their name.
The 1999 win in that competition saw products of United’s youth system rise to the continental summit in a similar fashion to players like Kanu and Kluivert had done for Ajax four years previously.
Perhaps it is strange for both clubs to be in the Europa League now yet fitting foes to face each other in the final.
Jose Has Enjoyed Games Against Ajax In The Past
Jose Mourinho has a perfect record as a Manager against Ajax with six wins out of six meetings.
After a weary road to the final that has left him sometimes snappy with reporters, tetchy on the sideline and scathing of his players, this trophy could be the beginning of something great for him and Manchester United.
Everton target Davy Klaasen captains Ajax and has scored sixteen goals from midfield this season. Danish striker Kasper Dolberg has netted twenty two goals in all competitions.
With seventy nine goals in the Dutch League and twenty four in the Europa League Ajax average well above two goals per game.
In contrast United’s top scorer available for Wednesday has eleven goals in all competitions and in the Premier League and Europa League United are averaging less than 1.5 goals per game.
All eyes will be on the middle of the park to see who wins the battle between Pogba and Klaasen which could set the tone for this whole game.
Mourinho Looking To Sustain Perfect Record In European Finals
Jose Mourinho has a perfect record in European finals with wins as Manager of Porto (2003, 2004) and Inter Milan (2010).
In each game his team soaked up all of the pressure from the opposition and hit them on the counter attack.
Celtic, Monaco and Bayern Munich are three notable sides in European football so his pedigree for winning at this level is not in question.
The question is whether his Manchester United side can really go at teams and see games off. Throughout this season United have edged over the line in this competition while Ajax have been free flowing.
Their 4-1 win over Lyon in the semi-final first leg showed a side who meant business.
How Manchester United start this game will be key. Going on past form this season, United will look to soak up their opponents pressure and out fox them when the ball is won back.
Should Mourinho opt to play Lingard up top with Rashford it gives him the option of using pace to good effect.
Mourinho Looks To Follow Sir Matt And Sir Alex
Sir Alex Ferguson visited the United players during training this week. No stranger to delivering a rousing team talk, his influence can only be a positive.
If United can start well and keep Ajax out in the first twenty minutes it will allow Mourinho’s men to get a foothold in the game.
As we saw at home to Chelsea once established in a game United can defend and also put the ball in the net. The first goal in this game is crucial and depending on who scores it we could see a very different game.
The smart money is on United to score, mop up the Ajax attacks and then put the game to bed with a late goal to seal it.
Matt Busby had vision and took Manchester United into European football when England’s Football Association were against it.
His young side thrilled those who watched before they were cut down in their prime. When his team eventually won the European Cup in 1968 a young George Best was instrumental in the victory.
Now, in very different circumstances Marcus Rashford. The local Manchester lad, could be the person to put a smile back on the face of a city after Monday nights events.
Football can be a beautiful game and let’s hope its beauty triumphs on Wednesday night.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Ajax