Mourinho's Man United face Ajax in season-defining Europa Cup Final
- Jose Mourinho's side face Ajax in season-defining Europa League Final
- Manchester United are without many first-team players including Zlatan Ibrahimovic
- A win would see either side claim a spot in the Champions League next season
There was always going to be a point where Jose Mourinho’s words would come back to haunt him. In fact, it was just four years ago in a Chelsea press conference when the Manchester United manager said that he would not want to win the Europa League. The competition was presumably beneath him back then but times have changed and a 6th place finish in the Premier League means that Mourinho is no longer able to turn his nose up at a chance that offers him and his Man United side a fast-track ticket to the Champions League next season. All they have to do is turn over Ajax at the Friends Arena in Stockholm today.
The club will, though, face a tough test: Ajax are a historic club who missed out on winning the Dutch League by a single point to rivals Feyenoord. Much like Man United, the Amsterdam side have had a slight wobble towards the end of the season, having won 3 and lost 2 games in their last 5. In Europe their form is similarly jaded the side somehow managed to progress to the Europa League final despite losing to Schalke, Lyon and FC Copenhagen away from home.
Man United will still be weary of their opponents, though. Ajax’s front-man, 19-year-old Kasper Dolberg, has netted 23 goals in all competitions, with pundits liking his style of play to Arsenal legend Dennis Bergkamp. Another one to watch would be Davvy Klaassen – a man linked to Tottenham Hotspurs and Everton - who is seen by manager Peter Bosz as utility player that can also bag a handful of goals.
Ajax do have a leaky defence and Man United - away from Old Trafford where their scoring record has been shy of the mark - will be looking to exploit that. Marcus Rashford will likely be making a start as it was his superb free-kick against Spanish outfit Celta Vigo that edged his club to the final. The teenager from Wythenshawe has scored 11 in all competitions this season - perhaps a slightly moderate amount considering the impact he has made in one year, but don’t let the statistics fool you; the 19-year-old has a real knack of piercing through opposition and creating goal-scoring opportunities from the flanks breathlessly. Mourinho said of him, “What matters is quality not age.”
No surprise, then, that the Portuguese manager handed 4 Premier League debuts to young-guns in Man United’s 2-0 victory to Crystal Palace last Sunday in the Premier League. The idea was to rest his main men for this crucial encounter. Even still they will be without the suspended Eric Bailly, while the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo are all out with long-term injuries. Chris Smalling and Marouane Fellaini are also doubts.
The odds are in Man United’s favour but that can be a disadvantage. Mourinho will take no chances and set out his typical protocol, looking to control the game and pounce on Ajax’s shaky back-line when the time is right. His Man United side have been called into question this season, their finish outside the top-4 not good enough for the money spend, but that will all be forgotten next season and Mourinho will be a hero should they do the job here against the Dutch outfit and are back to competing in the Champions League.
Prediction: This will be a test for the Man United players and I expect the replacements brought in for the injured players will be wanting to prove themselves on the big stage. And they will be fine as long as they keep their cool. 2-1 to Man United.