By Toyin Akiode
This evening, the 2017 EUROPA league final takes place at the Friends Arena in Solna, Sweden as Manchester United slug it out with Ajax to determine who goes home with the glistening silverware.
Ajax play in a contrasting fashion to Manchester United. While the Dutch team is attacking minded with youthful players all the pitch, the English powerhouse is tentative and annoyingly cautious!
It is this contrasting philosophies that will come into play tonight as Manchester United confronts a very mobile, energetic, skillful and fearless Ajax in a match to which Jose Mourinho has totally committed his hope of featuring in the UEFA Champions league.
Having rested so many players in his last four Premier League matches, there was no doubt about the Portuguese intention regarding this final. All eggs are now in one basket for the Red Devils; they must ensure they don’t crack them!
The Dutch side narrowly lost the Eredivisie to Feyenoord by a single point on the last day of the season. The EUROPA league is the only opportunity left to win a major trophy and it is certain they will give it a go.
Ajax are very impressive technically and they have lots of energy too. With plenty of pace to burn, it will take some level of grit and determination to stop them.
Upfront, Bertrand Traore and Amin Younes play on either side of Kasper Dolberg in attack. This has worked well for them as the goals have poured in torrents.
Davy Klaassen and Hakim Ziyech in the centre of midfield score goals and creates them. Blessed with the right blend of pace and skill, this due have always been a delight to watch.
The major weakness of this Dutch side is naivety and sloppiness at the back. Had Olympic Lyon been a bit less leaky in defense, Ajaz wouldn’t have been here!
In contrast to Ajax, Manchester United had never played in the final of EUROPA league. It is therefore not surprising that it is the only trophy missing in their rich cabinet.
Jose Mourinho had won the EUROPA league with FC Porto in the 2002/2003 season. A veteran of many finals, the Portuguese has almost a perfect record when it matters most and this may be the main strength of Manchester United in this final.
Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly and possibly David de Gea are good to win a match any day. These guys formed the core of the group that went 25 matches unbeaten in the Premier League.
Not giving to freely scoring, they are equally miserly at the back! This is where Ajax may need extra propulsion if they are desirous of winning the EUROPA title.
Manchester United’s Ander Herrera stated that qualifying for the Champions League is not negotiable. To do it, they must beat Ajax.
Managing the weight of dual expectations will define the outcome of this match to the Red Devils and Ajax will certainly have a big say in how that turn out.
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