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Sunday, 18 November, 2018

United's experience may prove critical in Ajax showdown

Talented Red Devils should see off the Dutch youngsters

Jose Mourinho has gambled Manchester United's season on winning the Europa League
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Europa League final
BT Sport 2, 7.45pm Wednesday

Jose Mourinho has put all his eggs into the Europa League basket and his risky strategy can pay off with a victory for Manchester United over Ajax in the final in Stockholm.

Mourinho has painted a picture of a successful first season at Old Trafford and reminded everyone that two trophies - the Community Shield and the EFL Cup - are already in the bag.

But a defeat against Ajax would be hugely damaging, and would extend United's exile from the Champions League to two seasons for the first time since the competition was revamped in 1992.

The pressure on United's players is immense, but they have looked mentally strong throughout their Europa League journey and have enough quality and experience to cope against Ajax.

Experience is what the Dutch side sorely lack.

Of the starting 11 which head coach Peter Bosz selected for the last Europa League outing - a 3-1 semi-final, second led loss away to Lyon - five players were aged 21 or under and only two were older than 25.

They are likely to be even more youthful against United with 20-year-old left-back Jairo Riedewald expected to deputise for 27-year-old Nick Viergever, who is suspended due to a red card received in Lyon.

Youth doesn't have to be a barrier to success but it may explain why Ajax - for all their talent and potential - have come up short in the race for domestic honours.

They finished one point behind Feyenoord in the Dutch title race - paying a heavy price for a 1-0 defeat away to PSV Eindhoven in the 32nd of their 34 fixtures.

And they exited the Dutch Cup at the fourth-ound stage after a surprise 2-1 defeat at second division Cambuur.

There have been inconsistencies in their performances and results on the road to the Europa League final.

Ajax lost three matches in the knockout stage (United were unbeaten) and there will be no second chance if Bosz's players fail to rise to the occasion in Stockholm.

The undoubted strength of Ajax is in attack.

Nineteen-year-old Danish striker Kasper Dolberg has scored six goals in the Europa League this season and 23 in all competitions.

Attacking midfielder Davy Klaassen in on 20 goals for the campaign and pacy wingers Amin Younes and Bertrand Traore (on loan from Chelsea) have been effective in the Europa League - scoring four goals each.

Ajax like to play a very aggressive, high-pressing style but that can sometimes expose their defence which is inexperienced at its heart with 20-year-old centre-back Davidson Sanchez lining up alongside 17-year-old Matthijs De Ligt.

They have kept just one clean sheet in their last seven games and were hanging on towards the end of the semi-final against Lyon - winning the first leg 4-1 and losing the second 3-1.

United will look to play on the lack of knowhow in the Ajax rearguard and could be very effective on the counter-attack with the pace of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and either Anthony Martial or Jesse Lingard - thought to be in competition for a place on the wing.

The Red Devils could also benefit hugely from a confident Paul Pogba, fresh from scoring a goal and supplying an assist in the 2-0 success over Crystal Palace on Sunday.

Pogba has been criticised for not living up to his £89m price tag and not making enough of an impact in the big games.

However, the Frenchman has undoubted quality and could play a key role in getting United over the line in their most significant match of the season.

Man Utd

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Team news
Regular left back Nick Viergever is suspended, so Jairo Riedewald is set to deputise.

Man Utd
Eric Bailly is banned after his red card in the semi-final second leg against Celta Vigo. Zlatan Ibrahimovich, Ashley Young, Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw are injured.

Key stat
Manchester United are unbeaten in their last ten Europa League fixtures. 


Ajax like to play a very aggressive, high-pressing style but that can sometimes expose their defence which is inexperienced at its heart
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