Kick off: Wednesday 24th May 19:45
Venue: Friends Arena Stockholm
After weeks of posturing, it’s finally time for ‘The Special One’ to deliver. Prior to United’s second-leg encounter with Celta Vigo at the semi final stage, Jose Mourinho defined it as the most important game in the club’s illustrious history.
With a penchant for the dramatic, the Portuguese coach may have exaggerated this claim slightly but the stakes are high. From merely a financial sense it has been speculated there is £70 million riding on this one game.
Unlike their opponents, who have already qualified for next years Champions League, this is do or die for Mourinho’s men. The equation is a simple one; win and it’s Champions League football next season, lose and it’s another season in Europe’s secondary competition.
Ajax do however have the added carrott of knowing that a win in Stockholm on Wednesday night would leapfrog them into the group stages of Europe’s premier competition, rather than being subjected to an always tricky pre-group play off.
EUROPA LEAGUE FORM
Despite their somewhat stuttering domestic league form, Man Utd have been a model of consistency on the continent this season winning 8 of their 14 Europa League games with just 2 defeats. As with so many Mourinho teams from yesteryear, United have defensively been rock solid conceding a meagre 8 goals in their European campaign thus far.
The somewhat controversial decision to start Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero over regular first choice shot-stopper David De Gea has not backfired on Mourinho. Indeed, Romero has been credited with United remaining alive in this competition by most notably pulling off some remarkable saves against Rostov in the last 16 round.
Peter Bosz’s Ajax have not been as miserly defensively as their English opponents, but the Dutch have played some scintillating football of late, seemingly employing the attack is the best form of defense policy. In their semi final fixtures against Lyon, Ajax blitzed the French team with five goals over the two legs and played with a panache and flair that hankered back to years gone by.
Many neutral observers have remarked the Amsterdam club has embarked on a road not too dissimilar to the Johan Cruyff-inspired halcyon days of ‘Total Football’.
Whilst record signing Paul Pogba hogs most of the attention surrounding the Red Devils, his midfield compatriot Ander Herrera is the unsung hero who keeps this unit ticking over. When Herrera goes well United tend to go well.
The 27 year old Spaniard is the type of selfless player that has become a hallmark in successful Mourinho led teams in the past. Herrera stated recently he will play anywhere for Mourinho and he will no doubt be at the forefront of the midfield battle in Stockholm as United look to stifle a young and pacy Ajax side.
Ajax’s baby-faced assassin Kasper Dolberg will undoubtedly pose the greatest threat to Man Utd’s return to the top table of European football. The 19-year-old Danish sharpshooter has been a revelation this season with 16 goals in the Eredivisie and has found the net on 6 occasions in 9 European starts.
The comparisons to the great Marco Van Basten seem apt and his sensational finish in the second leg vs Lyon proved vital as Ajax just about got over the line. Man Utd’s back four, minus a suspended Eric Bailly, will undoubtedly need to be on their game to keep the young Dane in check.
LATEST BETTING NEWS
Unsurprisingly, Man Utd opened as warm favourites here and at the time of writing are an industry-best-priced 1.91 with Matchbook. Ajax can be backed at 4.8 currently with the draw available at a competitively priced 3.6.
If you fancy a bit of action elsewhere, it is worth noting both teams have frequently been a profitable bet on the under 2.5 goals market. With their strong defensive record and at times wayward attacking play, United have been kings of the unders and have obliged on under 2.5 goals 10 times out of 14 (71%) in this competition.
While Ajax’s last 3 games have gone over the 2.5 mark, they have hit 8 of 14 (57%) on the under mark in this competition. The back lines of Lyon and Schalke in the previous rounds offered acres more space than a Mourinho coached team ever will so one feels those games should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Given the nature of cup finals in general, and what’s at stake here for Man Utd especially, a cagey affair would not be a surprise and laying Over 2.5 goals at 2.21 on Matchbook would not be the worst play for a casual interest bet here.
DID YOU KNOW ?
- Ajax and Manchester United have met four times before in European competition sharing two wins apiece (two games in the first round of the 1976/77 UEFA Cup and two legs in the round of 32 during the 2011/12 Europa League campaign).
- The Dutch club have lifted the trophy in 6 of their last 8 major European finals while the Red Devils have won 4 of their 6; those 2 defeats coming in the most recent appearances (2008/09 & 2010/11 Champions League finals versus Barcelona).
- The Europa League final will be played exactly 22 years after Ajax claimed their last European trophy by beating Milan in the 1995 Champions League final; that game featured Justin Kluivert’s father, Patrick, and Daley Blind’s father, Danny.