Friday 12 May 2017

One last European hurdle left as Ajax await

United's European campaign continued into an eighth month and fifteenth match which represents the most significant hurdle of all - a make or break Europa League final. 

Waiting for us there are Dutch giants Ajax, who saw off a spirited fightback from strongly fancied Lyon in the semi final. 

Peter Bosz's side edged through 5-4 on aggregate, and their enterprising, vibrant young side have taken this season's competition by storm.
The Stockholm showpiece pits the most successful clubs in their respective countries together, as United and Ajax boast an astonishing 53 top flight titles between them. 

Alongside their 33 domestic league successes, the Amsterdam outfit have won 18 Dutch Cups, four European Cups/Champions Leagues (the last in 1995) and, unlike us, a UEFA Cup. 
A fitting final with, as Jose put it, two "monster clubs" on a collision course with the prestigious silverware - and a coveted return to Europe's top table - at stake. 

Winning the Europa League has become Jose's priority as he looks to steer the team back into the Champions League having missed out in two of the last three seasons. 
Glory in the competition will be the yardstick to determine whether the Portuguese's first season in charge has been one of success or another post-Ferguson campaign of disappointing underachievement. 

United will certainly have age and experience on their side in the final, with the average age of the Ajax squad a mere 21 with only two players over 30 in their ranks.
That could work to our advantage and prove the decisive factor, with the uncertainty over how their young players will react to playing on the big stage.

They could freeze or be overawed but, on the other hand, all the pressure will be on us, so Ajax could play with freedom and without fear.
United's European sojourn will finish as it began, against Dutch opposition.

This time though, we'll need a better result as Feyenoord ran out 1-0 winners on that occasion.
Having come through a tricky group, we've got past Saint-Etienne (4-0 aggregate), Rostov (2-1), Anderlecht with extra time needed (3-2) and that narrow, nervy win over Celta Vigo.

Ajax have also endured a campaign of fluctuating fortunes, with their unbeaten home record offset by indifferent away form with three defeats from their four knockout ties on the road.

Like United, they needed extra-time to eventually see off Schalke, with two away goals deep into extra-time enough to set up that tie with Lyon.

Daley Blind is likely to play for us in the final, and also featured the last time we played Ajax in this competition - in 2012, under Sir Alex at the last 32 stage (we won the two legged tie 3-2). 

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