Manchester United may well have limped towards the end of the season but it is with good reason, that reason of course being having earned a place in the Europa League Final. The past few weeks have seen Jose Mourinho take the opportunity to rest his key players with this game in mind
And it’s tonight that the fixture finally comes around, the last four fixtures of United’s season gave us little to write home about as defeats to both Arsenal and Tottenham meant that any glimmering hope of a top four finish were blown up in smoke.
Add to that a turgid draw away at Southampton and a near youth team beating Crystal Palace last Sunday and for United fans this fixture cannot come soon enough as it should see a United team once again play at full pelt what with silverware being at stake.
Of course it’s not just bragging rights that are up for grabs as victory tonight will give the winners a backdoor route into the Champions League next season, it is arguably this game that will define United’s whole season. A win tonight and you would have to say it’s been a relative success.
But defeat and you would have to say that it has been a disappointment, yes they’ve won domestic silverware in the EFL Cup and Community Shield but they are mere trinkets for a club of this size and nothing short of a return to the Champions League regardless of route will do.
Victory in this game is certainly not a given as they go up against a young Ajax side that is evoking memories of the one that won the Champions League 22 seasons ago. That victory saw the break up of one of Europe’s talented teams and irrespective of result you get the feeling the same could happen to this edition of the Amsterdam club in the Summer.
The likes of captain Davy Classen and Danish forward Kasper Dolberg have been linked with a move to the Premier League in the transfer window and their performances in this competition have certainly put them in a shop window.
For Ajax it is always a near impossible job to keep hold of what talents they have due to the fact that their league is dwarfed in regards to financial muscle compared but it is also testament to the conveyor belt of talent that the club continues to operate.
One player who has come off the conveyor belt is that of Justin Kluivert, the winger is following in his fathers footsteps and will look to emulate him tonight by earning European success of his own. One interesting footnote will be if he goes head to head with Daley Blind.
If that is to be the case then it would mean that the sons of both Patrick and Danny will be on opposing sides when the two dutch greats were teammates and both played in the 1995 Champions League Final in which Kluivert senior scored the winning goal against A.C. Milan.
Another key man for Ajax is that of Bertrand Traore the striker who is on loan from Chelsea this season has scored four times in this competition on the road to the final while also creating another four, his contribution undoubtedly been a positive one.
Whether or not he goes back to Stamford Bridge next season or has another stint in what is now known as the Johan Cruyff Arena remains to be seen but with Chelsea farming out so many fringe players you do have to wonder if he will ever be able to make the breakthrough in West London.
If this is to be his last game for Ajax then he will undoubtedly want to go out on a high and the same could be saif for Wayne Rooney although how much game time he actually is given this evening is up for debate as he will have to make do with a start on the bench.
It spoke volumes that in such a youthful starting eleven last Sunday, Rooney ended up playing 88 minutes and you have thought that would be the last hurrah in front of the United faithful especially at Old Trafford, whether he is called upon tonight will depend on how the game goes.
Jose Mourinho has spoken of how he feels that United will need to be on the front foot for their encounter with Ajax and they will certainly need to be livelier than the last month of the Premier League season but this is a big game team with big game players and that should not be an issue.
They will go into this game as favourites but that said they will not be able to take Ajax for granted, theirs is a team brimming with talent and they would love nothing more than to claim the scalp that beating Manchester United would bring.
Who is the smart money on? You would have to say United what with the wiliness of manager Jose Mourinho who has been in this situation many times before. I’ll go for a United victory and one that sees them return to the Champions League for the first time since 2014/15.