Wednesday night will see the culmination of the 2016/17 Europa League campaign at the Friends Arena in Stockholm with 50,000 fans likely to watch the final between two of the continent’s most historic clubs. Two former Champions League winners will be fighting for the title and a place in next year’s competition, though Ajax have already secured one through domestic qualification. The sides have met just four times before, with two wins apiece as now Spurs centre-back Toby Alderweireld scored an 87th minute winner in their last clash in 2012.
Route to the Final
Manchester United have had a fairly easy route to the final to navigate, avoiding challenges like Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal. The group stages saw defeats to Dutch champions Feyenoord and Fenerbahce, with the Turkish side beating the Red Devils to top Group A. That pitted United against AS Saint-Etienne as Paul Pogba faced up against his brother with a convincing first leg victory allowing them to ease through in the second leg. The final 16 saw a trip to Rostov in Russia where a first leg draw was converted to a win in the second leg with a late Juan Mata goal, before the same happened against Anderlecht in the quarter-final with extra-time required to beat Anderlecht. The side came closest to elimination at Old Trafford as Celta Vigo missed an opportunity in the final second to send the giants out.
In the early stages Ajax actually performed better in terms of results, as they topped their group with 14 points, going unbeaten in the group stage and seeing off a challenge from United’s semi-final opponents Celta Vigo. The first knock-out round saw a narrow victory over Legia Warsaw before overcoming the threat of Copenhagen, having to come from behind after defeat in Denmark. A dramatic quarter final against Schalke saw two goals in the last ten minutes of extra-time seal passage to the semi-finals despite being down to ten men before holding off Lyon as they mounted a second leg comeback but it was not enough to pass the final hurdle.
Sergio Romero will continue in goal for Jose Mourinho, who faces a defensive selection headache, with Phil Jones expected to start in Stockholm. Other than that, it should be the strongest eleven available to Mourinho, with Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan denying Anthony Martial an opportunity.
Peter Bosz will face tough decisions at full-back, with first choice left-back Nick Viergever suspended and Kenny Tete likely to be dropped for Joel Veltman on the right to add a bit more defensive stability with an otherwise first choice starting eleven.
Eric Bailly will be absent after his late sending off after violently reacting in a fracas against Celta Vigo in the semi-final, and Chris Smalling could also miss out and is unlikely to start as he seeks to overcome a knock. Marouane Fellaini has also been struggling but should make a return in time to be involved.
For Ajax, the only key absence is that of left-back Nick Viergever after he was sent off in the semi-final against Lyon. Young duo Donny van de Beek and Pelle Clement could come into contention late in the day but are unlikely to feature, with Patrick Kluivert’s son Justin more likely to take a spot on the bench.
Match Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Ajax
Ajax will not be the pushovers that some could be expecting, and they’ve already demonstrated this season that they know where the net is. With United missing two key defenders, they could capitalise and it would be a surprise if they fail to find the back of the net. That said, the Dutchmen are weak defensively and United’s prowess should be able to allow them to outscore their opponents.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Ai Kagou.