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The much awaited Europa Cup final match comes up this evening with former champions of European football, Manchester United ready to put in all as the only hope of playing in the Europe elite competition, UEFA Champions League with Ajax as the stumbling block to that dream.
The match at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden tonight is a game that could rescue the season for Jose Mourinhoâ€™s side or ignite Ajaxâ€™s resurgence in European football since the back-to-back final match of the UEFA Champions League in 1995 and 1996.
Ajaxâ€™s famed youngsters could etch their names in history if they can mark their rise to prominence with a European trophy while Manchester United is hoping to win its third piece of silverware this season and book a place in the 2017/18 Champions League season.
Ajax is the underdog given the inexperience of the squad compared with a United squad boasting stellar talents from Europe but they will be desperate for European glory again â€“ 22 years after their last triumph.
Peter Boszâ€™s Ajax side finished second in the Dutch Eredivisie with 81 points from 34 games this season, losing just three times and conceding only 23 goals. They boast of the best away record in the division, but havenâ€™t managed the same consistency in Europe. Ajax got knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers, dropping into the Europa League where they have fallen short on a number of occasions. Ajaxâ€™s journey to the final has seen them without a win on the road since September 2016.
The Dutch side almost spurned a 4-1 aggregate advantage in the semi-finals against Olympique Lyonnais, losing 3-1 in the away leg and riding their luck in the finale of the match. The young side has been fascinating to watch in the competition, but there is a naÃ¯ve element to their approach away from home that could see them fall short to a canny United side with an expert pragmatist in charge who has won every major trophy in his coaching career.
Ajax has been whipping boys in the Champions League for many years, but to have the chance to win its sister competition with a side that could develop together for years to come may prove to be the motivation needed to get a result. Manchester United are no slouches, however. Jose Mourinho, a serial title-winner and multiple cup winner, doesnâ€™t lose finals and wonâ€™t underestimate Ajax.
Heâ€™s more likely to target their flaws than play to the strengths of his own side, playing direct to beat Ajaxâ€™s high press and hitting them on the counter when they turnover possession.
A robust approach from Manchester United is to be expected to halt Ajaxâ€™s playing style and disrupt their build-up. United will use their superior aerial threats from set pieces and from balls coming into box to try and breach the Dutch sideâ€™s defence, but goals have been hard to come by at times. It wouldnâ€™t be a surprise to see this weekâ€™s clash go to extra time, but the experience of the United players is likely to see them coming out on top.