Europa League: Road to the Final
Frank Monkhouse | 24 May 2017
How United and Ajax made it to Wednesday
One more shot at glory. Jose Mourinho knows victory in Wednesday’s Europa League final offers them a second, and final, chance at gaining entry into next season’s Champions League – exactly where the Old Trafford board need them to be.
A tournament that was viewed as little more than an inconvenience by followers of The Red Devils earlier in the season has now become their main focus. So, who is your winner? Will Manchester United triumph to ensure the Premier League has five teams in Europe’s elite, or will Dutch masters Ajax complete their comeback with a return to European glory?
Click here to have your say on a number of markets in the match, including match winner, correct score, first goal scorer and handicap.
Read on as we look at the route each team has taken to the final, and what pointers exist that can be used by punters to their advantage.
Clues point to a United win to nil
Manchester United have rode their luck at times in the Europa League and they were, in fact, rather fortunate to get out of the group stage at all. Dropped into Pool A, the English side finished with a record of four wins and two defeats, losing to Feyenoord and Fenerbahce, to end second in the pile. Three of those four group wins came to nil, including a 4-0 revenge vs Feyenoord.
They kept that up, beating Saint Etienne 3-0 in the round of 32, before going to France and finishing the job with a 1-0 win. A goal was conceded in a 1-1 draw away to Rostov in the last 16, before normal service was resumed, beating the same side 1-0 on home soil. The blot on that copybook came against Anderlecht in the quarters, 1-1 away, 2-1 at home, but the job was done in the semi-finals in Spain, beating La Liga side Celta Vigo by a goal to nil.
Taking Man Utd to win the match will net you 4/5 with Coral, but a shot on them to stick with the form and win to nil goes at 15/8. Need more convincing? These sides have met four times in the past, United winning two, both with a 2-0 final score. That may catch the eye of those who love a price, with a third 2-0 win chalked up at 7/1.
Ajax fail to convince
Mourinho took to the press recently to criticise the FA for making his team play a meaningless league match three days before this final, but Ajax didn’t have that problem. Their season was wrapped up on 14th May, finishing second behind bitter rivals Feyenoord, a single point the difference at the final call. The Dutch side were well beaten when last in this competition, losing 3-1 away to Lyon. That result showed the frailties that exist in the Ajax side, but they progressed thanks to an earlier 4-1 win over the same side.
Peter Bosz’s hopefuls finished the group stage as winners, topping G with an unbeaten record of four wins and two draws. The did concede, on average, a goal a game during that time however, and that leaky defence was carried into the next phase. Having snuck past Legia Warsaw by a goal over two legs, they allowed two vs Copenhagen in the round of 16, three to Schalke in the quarters, and four when meeting Lyon in the semis. If this match keeps pace, United may just find themselves scoring five. Perhaps not.
What is worth noting when putting together your bets in this glamour tie however is that Ajax’s record in the knockout phase of this competition shows four wins, one draw, and three defeats. Having failed to win half of their starts, punters may just find them difficult to trust.