Manchester United & Ajax tactics analysed ahead of the Europa League final

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 20:  Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates with team mates as he scores their second goal during the UEFA Europa Leag

Manchester United will face Ajax in the Europa League final in Stockholm on Wednesday night - but how will the two clubs approach the game tactically?

Ajax boss Peter Bosz will be looking for his first silverware at the club since taking charge last May and finishing the season a point behind champions Feyenoord on the last day of the Eredivisie season.

Jose Mourinho will be banking on a win after making the Europa League his priority and effectively conceding fifth place and any chance of a top-four finish in the Premier League.

But how do the tactics of both clubs compare?

ATTACK

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Ajax have scored 24 goals from 14 games during this season's Europa League campaign - one more than Manchester United.

The Dutch side typically play a 4-3-3 formation with a front three of Kasper Dolberg, Chelsea loanee Bertrand Traore and Amin Younes.

Bertrand Traore
Image: Bertrand Traore is on loan at Ajax from Chelsea

The trio have outscored United's attacking players in the competition, with Dolberg hitting six goals and the flank forwards scoring four each.

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Justin Kluivert, son of Ajax and Netherlands legend Patrick, has also made a first-team breakthrough at 17 years old on the right wing and could feature.

Justin Kluivert scored his first Ajax goal on Sunday afternoon
Image: Justin Kluivert has broken into the Ajax senior side

For United, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have both netted five, but the latter will miss the final in Stockholm after suffering a knee injury in April.

The absence of Ibrahimovic may initiate a departure from Jose Mourinho's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, but Marcus Rashford is likely to enter the fray in an unchanged set-up - with Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney offering additional options up front.

STYLE

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Both clubs have typically dominated games but United are more likely to win the possession battle, averaging nearly 60 per cent in the competition compared to 55 per cent for Ajax.

Despite accusations of playing defensively and negatively, an above-average majority of United's passes have been in the opposition's half, in both the Europa League and Premier League, while Ajax have dominated with more defensive possession.

Ajax's centre-backs will attempt to slow the game, passing across and from the back line - but United are likely to out-pass their opponents in the centre of the pitch.

Ander Herrera will look to close down and disturb Ajax midfield duo of Davy Klassen and Lasse Schone, while Paul Pogba will look to pass and probe through the middle third.

Paul Pogba congratulates Henrikh Mkhitaryan after he scored Man Utd's second goal against Sunderland
Image: Paul Pogba (right) and Ander Herrera (left) will be essential if Manchester United want to win the midfield battle

Despite facing some criticism, Pogba has made 360 passes in his own half - bettered only by Eric Bailly at United - but has also made a club-high 1,035 passes in the opposition territory.

The 23-year-old also has defensive stats that rival the Premier League's best defensive midfielders, in addition to offering a long-range and aerial attacking threat.

Ajax will need to press and negotiate the likes of Herrera and Pogba if they wish to win the possession battle, with United naturally playing further forward than their opponents.

The activity map below shows how the Netherlands club play a deeper style of football but typically attack in the opposition's half in wide areas.

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Ajax make more dribbles than United from those wide attacks - but still average slightly fewer crosses per game.

However, Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech will prove a handful for Antonio Valencia, having hit 78 crosses this term, while Schone has also launched 24 crosses from wide.

Ziyech is the primary creator for Ajax, setting up 37 chances en-route to the final, ahead of Traore on 25 - with both also registering four assists.

The Morocco international has also hit 12 shots on target and scored twice, as well as being an outlet for counter-attacks, and will be battling against the likes of Herrera on the right-side of United's midfield.

Hakim Ziyech during the UEFA Europa League quarter final first leg match between Ajax and FC Schalke 04
Image: Hakim Ziyech is the primary creator for Ajax

Ajax apply a more direct, patient attack on the ground, making 769 passes into the final third compared to United's 977.

United may play a more direct game with Ibrahimovic sidelined, but full-backs Daley Blind and Valencia, along with playmaker Juan Mata, can provide angled precision from the flanks.

However, with Marouane Fellaini an unlikely starter, Traore will give Ajax the edge for aerial attacking threat - two of his four goals in the competition have been headers.

But Jose Mourinho's men do pose a threat from distance, scoring six goals from outside the box - one long-range goal every two games on average.

DEFENCE

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Ajax centre-backs Viergver and Sanchez surpass United's counterparts for defensive stats - blocks, duels won, headed clearances, tackles, clearances and interceptions - while 17-year-old backup Matthijs de Ligt also provides robust cover.

At 6ft2in, Sanchez is the primary defender for clearing aerial threats and will look to snuff out any danger posed by Pogba, Fellaini or Chris Smalling.

Davinson Sanchez has made an impact at Ajax, but the centre-back can also score the spectacular

Indeed, Smalling or Phil Jones will be probably be tasked with nullifying the aerial qualities of Traore at the opposite end of the pitch.

United have typically started 'keeper Sergio Romero ahead of David de Gea in the Europa League, and the Argentine has recorded a superior save percentage of 88 per cent compared to the 72 per cent of Ajax stopper Andre Onana.

Despite the defensive robustness of Ajax, the Amsterdam club have still conceded 15 goals during their 14 Europa League outings - nearly twice as many as United's eight.

WEAKNESSES

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In addition to conceding more goals, Ajax are also more error-prone, making 10 mistakes leading to shots or goals compared to United's four.

The main culprits for Ajax have been 'keeper Onana and centre-back Viergever - both guilty of committing an error leading to a goal and making another mistake that resulted in conceding a shot.

Ajax also commit more fouls, typically by their three forwards attempting to gain possession - although attacker Younes also leads the side for winning duels.

Right-back Joel Veltman is also prone to committing a foul, as is back-up defender De Ligt, while Ziyech and Klaassen can commit feisty challenges in midfield.

United's main weakness appears to be missing big chances and being caught offside - although the main culprit for both of these weaknesses is the absent Ibrahimovic.

Manchester United's Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic reacts after falling awkwardly during the UEFA Europa League quarter-final second leg football match
Image: Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss the final after suffering a knee injury in April

The 35-year-old has been caught offside a remarkable 13 times and missed five clear-cut chances in the Europa League this term - more than any other player in the competition - while Jesse Lingard has also missed four.

So, despite an Ajax clean sheet in Stockholm seeming unlikely, United's need to play for the win may open up opportunities for Ajax's prolific front three and Ziyech.

Mourinho has rested players and sacrificed United's chance of finishing in the top four of the Premier League to concentrate on Champions League qualification by winning the Europa League.

The Portuguese has defended making the competition his priority and rebuked the claims of negative tactics - but defeat in Stockholm would unleash another level of criticism.

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