Ajax v Manchester United preview: Eric Bailly suspended for Europa League final
By Patrick Surlis
Last Updated: 24/05/17 8:02pm
Manchester United defender Eric Bailly is suspended for the Europa League final against Ajax on Wednesday.
The defender was handed a straight red card towards the end of the semi-final, second leg against Celta Vigo and will not be available in Stockholm.
The Key Battle
Rashford or Dolberg? Which of the talented teenagers will come out on top in the Europa League final?
United are bidding to win the competition for the first time in the club's history, while Ajax are seeking their first major European trophy since 1995.
The winner of Wednesday's final will also earn a place in the group stage of next season's Champions League.
Jose Mourinho rested several of United's big names on Sunday as they ended their Premier League season with a 2-0 home win over Crystal Palace.
Ajax finished their Eredivisie campaign with a 3-1 win at Willem II, where they fielded the youngest starting XI in league history with an average age of 20 years and 139 days.
Bailly is suspended, while Mourinho has confirmed Sergio Romero will keep his place in goal over David de Gea.
A serious knee injury prevents Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing in his home country, while Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young and Luke Shaw are long-term absentees.
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Marouane Fellaini (hamstring) and Chris Smalling (toe) trained on the eve of the match after sitting out the Premier League finale against Palace.
Ajax will be without suspended Nick Viergever, while fellow defender Daley Sinkgraven has resumed training after a recent knee injury but is not deemed ready to feature.
Davy Klaassen will skipper Peter Bosz's side, with Chelsea loanee Bertrand Traore set to line-up in attack.
This will be the first time since 2002 that a Dutch club has reached a UEFA Cup/Europa League final (Feyenoord); Manchester United are the third English side in five seasons to reach the final (Chelsea in 2013 & Liverpool in 2016).
Ajax and Manchester United have met four times before in European competition sharing two wins apiece (two games in the first round of the 1976/77 UEFA Cup and two legs in the round of 32 during the 2011/12 Europa League campaign).
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This will be the third meeting between English and Dutch sides in a European final (also Spurs v Feyenoord in 1974 and Ipswich v AZ in 1981, both in the UEFA Cup).
Ajax are in their first European final since their penalty shootout defeat to Juventus during the 1995/96 Champions League campaign.
The Europa League final will be played exactly 22 years after Ajax claimed their last European trophy by beating Milan in the 1995 Champions League final; that game featured Justin Kluivert's father, Patrick, and Daley Blind's father, Danny.
The Dutch club have lifted the trophy in six of their last eight major European finals whilst the Red Devils have won four of their six; those two defeats coming in the most recent appearances, however (2008/09 & 2010/11 Champions League finals versus Barcelona).
Manchester United have reached the final of the Europa League/UEFA Cup for the first time in their history.
United have gone 10 matches unbeaten in this competition (W7 D3); conceding just four goals in that time.
Ajax have lost three of their last four matches played in the UEFA Cup/Europa League against English opposition (W1) whilst United have lost two of their last three in this competition versus Dutch clubs (W1).
Just two of the last 16 UEFA Cup/Europa League finals have been decided by a penalty shootout (Sevilla beating Espanyol on penalties in the 2006/07 edition and then doing the same to Benfica in the 2013/14 campaign); 10 have been won in 90 minutes with a further four being decided in extra time.
Mourinho has won all six meetings with Ajax as a manager; those previous matches have all come in the Champions League with Real Madrid.
Marcus Rashford has been directly involved in each of Manchester United's last four goals in the Europa League (two goals and two assists).
Hakim Ziyech has recorded four assists in his last three Europa League appearances for Ajax.
No player has recorded more shots on target this season in this competition than Bertrand Traore (16); only Zenit's Giuliano (14) has been directly involved in more goals this term than Traore (8 - four goals and four assists).
Only Patrick Kluivert and Ton Blanker (both 7) have scored more goals than Kasper Dolberg (6) as a teenager for Ajax in European competition.
Amin Younes (73) has completed more dribbles in the Europa League this season than the next two best players combined (Paul Pogba, 37 and Bertrand Traore, 31).
It's a match of great contrasts and it's difficult for the romantic football fan in me to not want to see Ajax come out on top given what they represent.
This is obviously an incredibly young side but they will have learnt a lot from being edged out of the Eredivisie title race on the final day. What impact that will have had on them in the short term remains to be seen.
What we do know is Mourinho has often got the best out of his side in the big occasions this season.
If it becomes a wide-open game then Ajax have the goals in them to make it competitive and Mourinho knows that, so expect him to keep it tight and exploit the youngsters when they over-commit by using Rashford's pace.
Ajax's discipline is also key. They're not as strong physically as United and could come undone if they try to match them in that department, having picked up two red cards in their last three Europa League games.
Ajax are the outsiders with Sky Bet at 3/1 to win the Europa League final in 90 minutes, with Manchester United the even-money favourites while the draw and extra-time is priced at 12/5.
Marcus Rashford is the 9/2 favourite to score the first goal but enhanced to 11/2 in Sky Bet's Price Boosts, while Kasper Dolberg is seen as the biggest threat at 6/1 for the Dutch club. Mourinho's men are heavily backed at 1/2 to win the trophy, while the Amsterdam based club are priced at 13/8 to lift the trophy.