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Three key battles that will decide Manchester United’s Europa League final clash against Ajax

Jake Jackman



The Europa League final is hotly anticipated this year as two of the biggest clubs in European football meet in Stockholm.

Manchester United and Ajax are both past winners of the Champions League, but only one will be able to lift the Europa League trophy on Wednesday evening.

The competition has been disrespected in England since its inception, but this marks the second successive year that a Premier League side has made the final.

Liverpool lost to Sevilla last season and missed out on the Champions League spot on offer to the winners.

Here are three battles that will be key in determining the result in Stockholm…

Marcus Rashford vs Davinson Sanchez

Ajax have a young, confident squad, but Manchester United will be hoping that their inexperience will be their downfall on Wednesday night. That said, the Premier League club have a talented youngster of their own in Marcus Rashford and he is expected to start in Stockholm.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is injured for the final in his homeland and that means that United’s 19-year-old striker will be given the nod. His dynamism and movement show an intelligence beyond his years, but he faces a difficult battle against Davinson Sanchez.

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The Colombian centre back is a player typical of the Ajax ethos. He is confident in possession and the defender that Andre Onana looks for when distributing the ball. However, it is his positional sense that will cause Rashford problems. Sanchez is rarely caught in the wrong area of the pitch and he has the physical attributes to match the Manchester United striker.

Like any inexperienced player, the centre back can be rash in his decision making and lose concentration at times, but he has an impressive recovery speed when he does make a mistake. If Rashford gets behind the Ajax defence tomorrow, the Ajax defender is capable of getting back and making a last-ditch challenge. This will be a battle featuring two exciting young players and it could be one that decides the outcome.

Ander Herrera vs Hakim Ziyech

As a €15 million investment last summer, Hakim Ziyech is one of the few players that hasn’t benefited from an education at Ajax. However, he was arguably the best player in the Eredivisie during his time with FC Twente and, since his move to the capital, he has taken his game to a new level.

In the first leg against Lyon, the Moroccan international was incredible and assisted three of the four goals. He is given freedom to roam by Peter Bosz and completed six key passes on that evening. In addition to his creative flair, the 24-year-old is excellent at pressing in the attacking half and winning the ball back for his team, as displayed by his seven ball recoveries at the Amsterdam Arena.

He is the player that United need to shut down on Wednesday.

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The player that they will ask to keep a close eye on the Ajax midfielder is Ander Herrera, who has emerged as one of the most important players in the current United side. His tenacity and work rate provide Paul Pogba with the license to roam forward. Against this energetic and youthful Ajax side, Herrera has a huge job to do and it chiefly involves Ziyech.

In the Europa League this season, the Spaniard has averaged 6.1 ball recoveries per game, which is an impressive achievement. He will need to be at his aggressive best to prevent their Dutch opposition from having too much time on the ball in the United half.

Phil Jones vs Kasper Dolberg

Manchester United have defensive issues after Eric Bailly was shown a red card in the second-leg of their semi-final against Celta Vigo. Ajax have had some excellent strikers down the years and the latest forward to make a name for himself at the club is Kasper Dolberg.

The 19-year-old is the first teenager to score 16 league goals in a season since Patrick Kluivert and he could become the top goal scoring teenager in Europa League history with a goal in the final.

He is a near complete striker, as he can thrive in a physical battle in addition to beating them in the dribble. The most impressive part of his game is his movement, as he has a habit of getting in behind the defence. When he gets into that position, his finishing rarely lets him down and he is the main goal threat that United need to worry about.

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The defensive crisis means that Phil Jones is likely to start for the Premier League side. This is the view taken by the Evening Standard and it is a worry for United as he has played three times in the competition this season. He has had problems with injury and doesn’t seem to be a part of Jose Mourinho’s long-term plans.

On his day, he is a fine defender and United will need him to step up to the occasion on Wednesday to nullify the threat of Dolberg. He has the experience to come out on top and it will be interesting to see if he does manage to do so.

Featured image: All rights reserved by indolivescore

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Manchester United

Is a Luke Shaw for Danny Rose swap deal a no-brainer transfer?

Shaw and Rose have both struggled at Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively, this season.



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It looks as though Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw will be leaving Old Trafford this summer. The BBC report the England international will seek an exit after his latest stinging criticism from Jose Mourinho.

Shaw has struggled to win over the Portuguese since Mourinho became United manager. Now it seems the end of the tether has been located and Shaw will make an exit. The 22-year-old, who cost a fee reported by the BBC to be in the region of £27 million in 2014, will not be short of suitors.

Despite his struggles at Manchester United since suffering a horror leg break, Shaw is considered one of the best young left-backs in the game.

The obvious solution should be clear and for Shaw certainly desired. A move to Tottenham Hotspur must be his wish.

Shaw came through the ranks at Southampton and became an England international under the coaching of Mauricio Pochettino. The pair had a special bond and Shaw has confirmed a desire to work with the Argentine again. He wrote in Guillem Balague’s book Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs, as reported by Sky Sports:

“I do hope that I can play for him again one day. And I think he really wants me to play under him again.

“He used to call me his son, that’s how good our relationship was. I’ve had lots of ups and downs, but when I was with Pochettino it was only ever up, up, up.”

It is a similar relationship to the one many have suggested Pochettino had with his current Tottenham left-back Danny Rose. That relationship, however, has been in decline. After appearing to suggest he wanted a Spurs exit last summer, and after a battle with injury, Rose has become second-fiddle at Spurs to Welshman Ben Davies.  

Rose, originally from Leeds, is known to eventually want a return north and Shaw will no doubt love a move south. There is an obvious solution on the cards here.

Manchester United would love to bring in Rose and finally fill their problem position of left-back. Shaw needs to leave Old Trafford for a fresh start to his career. Working under the man he once considered a father figure could be just what he needs.

Shaw to Tottenham and Rose to Manchester United seems a no-brainer. Time will tell if either move comes off for these two players searching for fresh impetus in their careers.

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Manchester United

Jose Mourinho should build Manchester United around Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford returned with a bang against local rivals Liverpool on Saturday.

Rob Meech



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In his first Premier League start since Boxing Day, Marcus Rashford inspired Manchester United to victory over fierce rivals Liverpool. The 20-year-old’s first-half brace was the perfect way to mark his return to the starting XI, which had been confirmed following an injury to Paul Pogba.

Rashford has been a peripheral figure since Alexis Sanchez joined the club in the January transfer window. But, in arguably the biggest fixture on the Premier League calendar, the England international grabbed with both hands a rare opportunity to impress as United moved five points clear of Liverpool.

There was no evidence that Rashford’s prolonged spell out of favour had affected his self-confidence. His first goal was bursting with skill and composure. After latching on to a long ball from Lukaku, Rashford bamboozled Trent Alexander-Arnold before firing past Loris Karius.

Although his second found the net with the aid of a deflection, once again it was a testament to his sharpness. Despite his limited game time, that’s now 12 goals in all competitions this season for the World Cup hopeful.

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Rashford’s stunning contribution will certainly give Jose Mourinho food for thought. The Portuguese has regularly picked Pogba, Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard ahead of Rashford of late, in the attacking trio behind Romelu Lukaku.

While Martial and Lingard have justified their selections, the same cannot be said of Pogba, who at times has looked uninterested. Sanchez too has yet to exhibit his best form in a United shirt since joining from Arsenal.

History has taught us that Mourinho rarely excludes his high-profile players, regardless of form. Had Pogba not been sidelined through injury, it is entirely likely Rashford would once again have been forced to watch on from the bench. Consequently, what transpired against Liverpool might have been a mere fantasy.

United have a proud tradition of producing homegrown players and not relying on foreign imports. Look at the treble-winning side of 1999, whose success was founded upon a British core.

Admittedly, the landscape has changed dramatically in the past two decades. The riches of the Premier League mean a club of United’s stature is able to cherry-pick the world’s best players. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. The club’s identity is sacred and, in recent times, United have been in danger of losing theirs.

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The fact that Rashford was not signed for £75 million should not preclude him from being United’s centrepiece. As he reminded everyone in his performance against Liverpool, he has all the talent required to be a fixture at the club for years to come.

However, he needs to be playing regular football. A few minutes here and there will not accelerate his development. On the contrary, it could risk one of this country’s most promising starlets becoming an unfulfilled talent.

Rashford offers United something different from his team-mates. He gets supporters off their seats and electrifies the atmosphere thanks to his blistering pace and trickery, which in many ways is a throwback to the Sir Alex Ferguson era at Old Trafford.

These are qualities not usually associated with Mourinho, who throughout his time in management has always demanded his players to be tactically aware. Rashford is a wildcard, the ace in the pack that can conjure something out of nothing.

Forget Pogba and Sanchez, If Mourinho gives Rashford an extended run in the team, he and United will flourish.

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Manchester United

Are Manchester United finding form at the perfect time?

Jose Mourinho out-smarted Jurgen Klopp on Saturday to strengthen Manchester United’s grasp on 2nd.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Manchester United have been criticised for their style of play this season, while some have suggested they are a team of individuals. However, they delivered a very good performance to beat rivals Liverpool to build up a five-point lead in second place.

Jose Mourinho will be delighted with the effort and cutting edge of his team, as he got the better of Jurgen Klopp in a huge game to strengthen his team’s position in the top four.

Paul Pogba missed out through injury, which would have been a disappointment before a ball was kicked. However, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic dominated the midfield areas with 13 ball recoveries in the ninety minutes. Ahead of them, Juan Mata added creativity and an attacking threat, especially in the first-half.

The Spaniard came close to scoring before the break with an overhead kick effort and his distribution was nearly faultless, as he finished the match with a 90% pass success rate.

The 29-year-old has had problems with Mourinho in the past, but he has emerged as a great squad option, especially in big matches. In addition to his nice touches on the ball, he made three ball recoveries. This underlines how he has bought into the style of his manager.

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Marcus Rashford was another player to come into the team and he showed why he was selected as he scored twice to put Manchester United into a commanding first-half lead. His two goals were similar as they both came from Romelu Lukaku knock-ons. Mourinho knew Liverpool could be targeted with a direct approach and it worked.

The first showed great movement from Rashford as he gambled on his team-mate winning the ball and that gave him the march on the Liverpool defenders. He then coolly dropped a shoulder and cut inside before firing past Loris Karius. It showed impressive composure and skill in the final third. The England international has sometimes struggled with his final ball, but he was back to his best on Saturday.

He then added a second that once again showed his excellent finishing ability. Another long ball caused chaos, but it didn’t go directly to Rashford this time. When it did drop at his feet on the edge of the area, he delivered a perfectly measured shot to make it 2-0. It is now up to the 20-year-old to push on over the coming weeks to become a regular starter for club and country.

Jose Mourinho flourishes when he is defending a lead. He prefers to control matches without possession and that was the case on Saturday as his team had only 31.9% of possession. Liverpool had 14 attempts to Manchester United’s five, but the result was never in doubt.

That is highlighted by the expected goals. Michael Caley’s model valued the home side’s chances created at exactly 1.0, while it valued Liverpool’s opportunities at 0.8.

To put this into context, Manchester United had less possession and had fewer attempts, but they created the better chances and kept an in-form Liverpool attack relatively quiet.

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The finish was made nervy by an unfortunate own goal from Eric Bailly. The defender couldn’t repeat what he managed even if he tried and it is difficult to prepare for such a bad piece of luck. Luckily for Mourinho, his side had a two-goal lead and the own goal didn’t push them.

The majority of Manchester United players can be pleased with their performances, but Ashley Young was perhaps the standout player. The 32-year-old made 10 ball recoveries and made five clearances to help the defensive effort.

Mohamed Salah was rarely in the game and the England international deserves huge credit for his role in that. He was disciplined and rarely ventured forwards. If he can continue to perform to that level, he would emerge as a great World Cup option for Gareth Southgate.

The past week for Manchester United has been a positive one and it should provide them with momentum to finish the season strongly. They showed great spirit to fight back from 2-0 down at Selhurst Park to get three points and they displayed excellent game-management to dispatch of one of their rivals.

They are now in a good position to finish second and that would be an achievement of sorts given the consistency of Manchester City. In addition to that, they can target Champions League success.

They aren’t one of the frontrunners for the competition, but they are good at managing games and have beaten now Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham at Old Trafford. If they can improve away from home, they could reach their peak at the perfect time.

Jose Mourinho has a record of doing that and this result should encourage supporters that this season could follow a similar pattern.

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