This year’s UEFA Europa League Final sees the most successful club in England take on the most successful club in Netherlands. The two European heavy weights will battle it out in Stockholm for not just the Europa League trophy, but for automatic Champions League football next season.
Season so far
Heartbreak on the final day of the season saw Ajax lose the Eredivise title to Feyenoord by one point. This loss now makes it 3 years since Ajax last won the league and means they will only go into the 3rd round of Champions League next season. They finished off the league on 81 points with the second highest amount of goals scored and joint least goals conceded. Elimination in the KNVB Cup in the 3rd round meant the 18 time winners have not won the cup since the 2009-10 season. In terms of the Europa League, Ajax went straight into the group stages after losing 5-2 on aggregate to Russian side FC Rostov in the final UEFA Champions League qualifying round. They finished top of their group going undefeated, in a group containing United’s semi-final opponents Celta Vigo. On their road to the final they beat Legia Warsaw 1-0 on aggregate, then Copenhagen 3-2, Schalke 4-3 and finally Lyon 5-4. The Europa League final is the first European final the club has played in since their UEFA Champions League Final loss to Juventus on penalties in 1996. The game will not just be a huge occasion for the players, who will be looking to end the clubs 3 year trophy drought, but for their ever expectant fans who are used to seeing their club winning European Cups.
AFC Ajax has a wildly talented young team so I have narrowed it down to three players in defence, midfield and attack to watch out for.
The young Colombian defender may be only 20 but has been a rock at the back for AFC Ajax this season since signing in the summer. Sliding straight into the heart of the defence he has made 43 appearances this season, the majority of them being starts and with him playing the full 90 minutes. The centre half has been consistent all season, featuring in the WhoScored.Com best Eredivise 11 with an average match rating of 7.3.
The skillful Moroccan midfielder has been a revelation this season since signing from FC Twente. The midfielder finished the season joint top on assists with 11, as well as getting 4 in the Europa League campaign so far. He also contributes goals from the middle of the park with 11 already this season. He is well known for his dribbling and free-kick ability and will be a key man in midfield for Ajax in Stockholm.
There are a lot of promising attackers at Ajax right now but I felt as if the Danish striker deserved a special mention. The young striker was signed in 2016 from Silkeborg IF and was spotted by the same scout who found Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Christian Eriksen. He made his debut against PAOK in the Champions League Qualifiers and scored his first goals for the club against Roda JC. Since then he hasn’t looked back notching 16 goals in the Eredivise, contributing a massive 20% of all his teams’ goals in the league. Along with that he has 6 goals in the Europa League this season and will be Ajax’s danger man up top.
Against an impressive, trophy hungry, young AFC Ajax team Manchester United will have to be at their very best to avoid a shock in Stockholm.