Ajax vs Manchester United
2016/17 Europa League Final
Date: Wednesday, 24th May 2017
Kick-off at 19:45 UK/ 20:45 CET
Venue: Friends Arena, Stockholm.
The Europa League final will be played 22 years to the day since Ajax claimed their last European trophy – overcoming AC Milan in the 1995 Champions League final. The Dutch giants also reached the final of the 1996 Champions League, but lost on penalties to Juventus.
It is the 15th time that Ajax have been present in the final of a UEFA competition – winning 10 of their previous 14 – but it is their first since 1996, with this young, vibrant team threatening to take the club back to its glory days.
Ajax have, without question, brought the entertainment factor to the Europa League this season. They have had more attempts on goal (225) and more attempts on target (95) than any other team in this season's competition, out-scoring Man United 24-23 en route to the showpiece final.
It is the first time since 2002 that a Dutch club have reached the final of this particular competition (Feyenoord), but Ajax have actually lost three of their last six matches in the Europa League, which makes their presence in the conclusion of the tournament even more incredible.
They overcame Legia Warsaw and Copenhagen to reach the quarter-finals, before beating Schalke 04 4-3 on aggregate to set up a semi-final with Lyon.
Ajax recorded an incredible 4-1 victory in the first leg of their semi-final in Amsterdam, and despite losing 3-1 at Lyon in the return, managed to squeeze into the final of the competition by the narrowest of margins.
The Dutch outfit are actually without a victory in their last six European games away from the Amsterdam ArenA, and their results in this competition, especially in the knockout round, have been difficult to predict.
They finished one point behind winners Feyenoord at the top of the Eredivisie this season, but the signs are positive for the future, with a number of impressive youngsters starting to flourish for the famous European outfit.
Seeking their first continental silverware in 22 years, Ajax are the underdogs entering this week's clash in Sweden, but it could well be the start of something extremely special for this talented group of youngsters.
It would be fair to say that the Europa League was an inconvenience for Man United and head coach Jose Mourinho earlier this season, but the competition has become imperative as the club look to return to the Champions League.
The Red Devils ultimately finished seven points shy of the top four in the Premier League this season, with a total of 69 points only good enough for sixth position. The Community Shield and League Cup have been added to the trophy cabinet, but this is comfortably Man United's biggest game of the season.
While the chance to secure a European trophy is always important, it is the offer of Champions League football that has drawn the most attention. It is almost a playoff fixture for Man United – win and a return to the European elite will arrive.
Mourinho's first season at Man United has not been without its bumps and bruises, but the team's form in the Europa League has been strong. Indeed, they are unbeaten in 10 European fixtures – winning seven times in the process – since losing 2-1 at Fenerbahce in the group stages of the competition.
Man United have actually only won six of their previous 11 European finals, and have lost their last three. This is the only European trophy that the 20-time English champions are yet to win, and they will be looking to join Ajax, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Juventus in completing a full set of major UEFA club trophies.
Mourinho also has plenty of experience taking on Ajax, and the Portuguese has won all six of his previous meetings with the Dutch giants, boasting an aggregate score of 20-2. The former Chelsea boss has also previously tasted success in this competition having steered Porto to the crown in 2003.
After progressing through the group stages, Man United overcame Saint-Etienne and Rostov to set up a quarter-final with Anderlecht. The English giants needed extra-time to overcome the Belgian club, but Marcus Rashford struck the winner to secure a 3-2 aggregate success.
When Man United won 1-0 at Celta Vigo in the first leg of their semi-final, the Red Devils seemingly had one foot in the final. They made hard work of the return, however, with Celta levelling at 1-1 late on to set up a grandstand finish at Old Trafford.
As it transpired, a 1-1 draw in the second leg was enough to progress on aggregate, but Man United's form has suffered in recent weeks. Indeed, their 2-0 win over Crystal Palace at the weekend was their first victory in the Premier League for almost one month.
It has been a strange first season for Mourinho at Old Trafford, but leading the club back into the Champions League would certainly make up for a disappointing Premier League campaign. The Portuguese has rested a number of his first-team stars in recent weeks ahead of the Europa League final, and he will be hoping their freshness plays a key role in Sweden.
This is the clubs' fifth meeting in UEFA competitions; the past four produced two wins for each side.
Ajax have scored 24 goals from 14 games during this season's Europa League campaign - one more than Manchester United.
Ajax are without a victory in their last six European games away from the Amsterdam ArenA: D3 L3 – three draws followed by three defeats.
de Godenzonen have had more attempts on goal (225) and attempts on target (95) than any other team in this season's tournament.
Ajax have committed more fouls (236) and received more yellow (45) and red (4) cards than any other side in this season's UEFA Europa League.
The game is taking place 22 years to the day since Ajax claimed their last major European trophy, overcoming AC Milan 1-0 in the 1995 UEFA Champions League final.
Bertrand Traoré is on loan with the club from Chelsea. The Burkina Faso forward made his Chelsea debut under José Mourinho in a 4-0 UEFA Champions League group stage win against Maccabi Tel-Avivin September 2015.
Their most recent encounters were in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League round of 32. Ashley Young and Javier Hernández scored in the Amsterdam first leg as Sir Alex Ferguson's men won 2-0.
United are unbeaten in ten European matches (W7 D3) since a 2-1 loss at Fenerbahçe in this season's UEFA Europa League group stage.
The Red Devils have attempted (7,582) and completed (6,702) the most passes in this season's UEFA Europa League.
United are looking to join Ajax, Bayern, Chelsea and Juventus in completing a full set of major UEFA club trophies (UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League) with victory in Stockholm.
Mourinho faced Ajax five times as Real Madrid coach, winning all five games by an aggregate score of 17-2.
Jose Mourinho has won all three of his major UEFA finals.
Sergio Romero played in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar from 2007–11, landing the title in 2008/09. Ajax's Nick Viergever was a team-mate of his during the 2010/11 campaign.
Ajax vs Manchester United: Head-to-head stats
The teams had previously met on four occasions and they share 2 wins each.
The first meeting was in 1976 UEFA Cup, Ajax won their home fixture 1-0 and lost away at Manchester by 2-0.
The most recent duel was in first knockout round of the 2011/12 edition of the Europa League. United took a 2-0 win in the first leg at Amsterdam, but lost the return leg at Old Trafford by a 1-2 margin.
The Dutch side Ajax and Manchester United are meeting for the first time in a UEFA Final. Neither did they met an club from opponent’s country in the penultimate match of the competitions.
Ajax vs Manchester United: Prediction
One can put this plain and simple that this tie is a duel between the exciting young attacking talent of Ajax versus the stubborn defensive unit of Manchester United. It is a very clear that experience matters in these kind of games and therefore United have a slighter edge in this cup final. But, Ajax are no pushovers and one must expect some fierce battles in the middle of the part.
My primary pick for this fixture will be both teams to score. I cannot overlook the abundance of attacking talent in both units and believe this will be a feast for neutrals.