It has come down to Manchester United and Ajax for the Europa League title. The pressure is on the team from Manchester since they need to lift the title in order to qualify for Champions League next season. Ajax has no such worries because they finished 2nd in the Eredivisie and will probably start from the third round of Champions League qualifying.
Stats to keep in mind
Pass completion: Manchester United 88%-Ajax 85%
Both teams are very accurate in the pass game. Ajax’s stat might be more impressive since they are a much younger team, whereas Manchester is more experienced and you would expect that from a team with big name players.
Total attempts: Manchester United 177-Ajax 225
48 more attempts on net is a telling stat for an Ajax side that is very young. Traore and Younes finished one-two with 17 and 16 shots on target, something United will need to focus on. Man mark the players early and make sure you force them into touch shots.
Total goals scored: Manchester United 23-Ajax 24
Ibrahimovic, United’s leading goal scorer, is out but the likes of Rashford and Rooney will need to step up in his absence and contribute as best as they can. Dolberg, on the other side, is a star on the rise. He finished with six goals, which was tied for 3rd. He will be Ajax’s biggest threat.
Passes Completed: Pogba-840, Herrera-558, Sanchez-453
The fact that Pogba has almost 300 more passes than second place Herrera is a scary stat. Sanchez is Ajax’s best passer of the ball with 453. Limiting possession for both Pogba and Herrera should be Ajax’s priority.
Important players on each side
Pogba has been subpar after a huge move from Juventus back to Manchester United. What better way to silence the critics (and me) then by playing a great final and showing people that he is in fact worth all that money. If I am Mourinho, I am playing Pogba behind the striker, where he can create chance for his team and really dictate the tempo of the match.
This could be Rooney’s final match in a Manchester United kit and what better way to go out than to win the Europa League title and get your club back to the Champions League. I am not too sure if Rooney will start, but he will play a big role in the outcome of this match. At club level, he is a big match player. I would definitely have him in the starting XI.
You would think the goalkeepers will play a big part, as well. Ajax conceded 1.07 goals per match, while Manchester United is even better conceding just 0.57. Romero has been great, but Onana has had his ups and downs, despite everything.
Dolberg has been Ajax’s best player this season, scoring 16 goals in the Eredivisie and also adding six in the Europa League. He will be heavily relied upon to carry the load up top. If he is off his game, Ajax will have a very tough time beating Manchester United. Traore and Younes will need to do their best to contribute as well, just to take some of the pressure off Dolberg.
Not having Bailly in the line-up will be a big blow for Manchester United, since he has been their best and most consistent defender all season. United has been playing in the 4-3-3 formation lately, but I would switch to 4-2-3-1 because of the extra defensive help they would get from the two defensive midfielders. As I mentioned before, Pogba is due for a big game on a big stage. Look for a lot of the offense to run through him, as he gets Lingard and Mkhitaryan involved as much as possible. The earlier Manchester United scores, the better. If they get a goal early, it could very well crush a young team like Ajax, although they were very resilient versus Lyon and ended up advancing to the final.
Ajax will come into this match with jitters; there is no doubt about that. They field a very young team most games, which means that they could be prone to errors, especially early in the match. Dolberg needs to test that United backline as often as possible with Bailly out. Jones is a good defender, but Dolberg needs to keep him on his heels at all times. The backline for Ajax will be young, so it is important that they stay composed throughout the entire match. Fellaini has been known to be a bit of a wildcard, both when it comes to scoring and for disciplinary reasons. Maybe Ajax look to get under his skin a little bit, just to keep him on edge.
All in all, I think this will be a solid match-up. Ajax, essentially, have nothing to lose. They are already in Champions League qualifying for next season. Manchester United, on the other hand, must win to get to Champions League football next season. I feel United’s experience and ball movement will be the x-factor today. Ajax has a great, young side, but I am worried that if they go down, they will not have the mentality to get back into the match.
Prediction: Manchester United-Ajax 2:0
Ogi is a graduate of Humber College’s Sport Management program. He is the founder of Blago Blogger Sports.