Monday 22 May 2017

Europa League opposition profile: AFC Ajax

United face Dutch giants AFC Ajax in the Europa League final on Wednesday. 

The Stockholm showpiece pits the two most successful sides 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 club 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. 

The two clubs share many similarities, from their glittering trophy hauls, renowned youth systems and the roll-call of household names to have played for and managed them. 

Like United, Ajax boast a storied, decorated history and are one of only two clubs to have achieved the rare feat of winning the European Cup three times in succession (Real Madrid are the other) - in 1971-72, 1972-73 and 1973-74. 
An away goals victory over Torino saw them lift their only UEFA Cup in the 1991-92 season under a certain Louis van Gaal, who also led them to a fourth European Cup three years later (a 1-0 win against Milan in Vienna). 

Patrick Kluivert scored the winner in that final, and the Dutch legend's 18-year-old son Justin will look to follow in his father's footsteps when he lines up against United.

Now managed by 54-year-old Dutchman Peter Bosz, it's been a disappointing domestic season by the Amsterdam club's lofty high standards.
They missed out on the Eredivisie title to United's group stage opponents Feyenoord as runners up for the third season in a row, and also suffered a shock KNVB Cup exit to second-tier side SC Cambuur.

Despite those setbacks,  this vibrant and energetic Ajax side - with an average age of 21 -  have taken Europe by storm with a team built on the famed talents of their youth Academy.

Spearheaded by 22-goal top scorer, 19 year old Dane Kasper Dolberg, they entered the competition at the third qualifying round having been knocked out in the Champions League play-offs by Rostov (who United eliminated at the last 16 stage).

An unbeaten group campaign was to follow, before they saw off Legia Warsaw, Copenhagen, Schalke and favourites Lyon over two legs to reach the final.

Netherlands captain Davy Klaassen (24), Chelsea loanee Bertrand Traore (21) and attacking midfielder Hakim Ziyech (24) are some of the other names to watch.

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