The 2016-17 UEFA Europa League final is finally upon us with Ajax facing off against Manchester United in Wednesday’s final match.
Solna, Sweden will play host to the final, which started off with qualifying back in June 2016. A total of 188 teams have taken part in this year’s tournament, with two historic sides looking to lift the trophy.
Manchester United finished the Premier League campaign in sixth, which sees them needing a Europa League final win to make next year’s Champions League competition. Jose Mourinho’s side is coming off a slim semifinal victory over Celta Vigo, while also eliminating Saint-Etienne, FC Rostov, and Anderlecht in the previous rounds.
A win for United will see them lift their first ever Europa League crown, but also their first European silverware since 2008.
United, who has been stricken with injury problems all season, return the likes of defender Chris Smalling and midfielder Marouane Fellaini to the squad this week. Both players did not feature in United’s final EPL match of the season last Sunday, but add some important depth to Mourinho’s decision-making plans.
Smalling should see the start in the back-line, with Eric Bailly suspended, Marcos Rojo injured, and Luke Shaw injured. Leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been a huge loss since being ruled out for the remainder of the season back in early April.
Paul Pogba will be expected to start in midfield, looking to add to his two goals in the competition. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has three goals, and is always a spark in the offensive front, while Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial add pace. Wayne Rooney’s leadership is a huge reason why the 31-year-old could start as well. Marcus Rashford has yet to score in this competition, but is a wildcard whenever on the pitch.
“I think we have the quality to get the trophy for the club,” said Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera. “We have to play very well if we want to win it. We can be back in European titles – that’s what United are about.”
Ajax concluded the Eredivisie campaign in second place, finishing a point behind eventual champions, Feyenoord. Peter Bosz’s side entered the competition via the Champions League playoff place, and have eliminated the likes of FC Kobenhavn, Schalke and Lyon to reach the final.
The Dutch side is searching for its first European title since 1995, with their only Europa League trophy coming in 1992. Ajax has featured a lot of youth in their lineups, which seems to be their strength going forward.
A pair of strikers have both made an impact for Ajax in this tournament, and still have a bright future ahead. Kasper Dolberg, 19, has four goals in the Europa League, and 17 between the Eredivisie and the UEL. He is a clinical finisher, and a tricky forward to defend against. 21-year-old Bertrand Traore has 11 goals across both competitions, and is on loan from Chelsea. Davy Klassen is the veteran of the bunch at 24, and a true leader in midfield.
“We only have a chance of beating Manchester United if we play our own game, which we have developed this season and which I like to call the Ajax way of playing,” said Ajax coach Peter Bosz. “Will they be nervous? I should send them instantly to the doctor if they don’t feel nervous. It would be remarkable if they didn’t feel nervousness. I know they are young and we have to help them but we have been preparing for this game since our semi-final win against Lyon.”