Europa League

Manchester United beat Ajax to win the Europa League and qualify for Champions League

Manchester United have won the 2016-17 Europa League title courtesy of a 2-0 win against Ajax in the final at the Friends Arena in Stockholm this evening.

Just two days on from a terrorist attack which killed 22 people in their home city, United collected the only major trophy which had previously eluded them in their illustrious history as goals from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan fired them to glory in Sweden.

The victory means that United join Ajax in a select group of just three other clubs to have won every major European trophy in their history, adding their first Europa League crown to their three Champions League titles and one Cup Winners’ Cup.

It also secures a passage into the group stages of next season’s Champions League, ensuring that they will join Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Liverpool at the top table of European football despite having finished only sixth in the Premier League table.

The match was Ajax’s first European final since 1996 and came 22 years to the day after their 1995 Champions League triumph – a match which saw United defender Daley Blind‘s father Danny Blind lift the biggest trophy in European club football under Jose Mourinho‘s predecessor Louis van Gaal.

Ajax’s average age on that night was just 25, and they named an even more youthful squad this evening with Lasse Schone the only player above the age of 26 and 17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt becoming the youngest player to ever start a major European final.

United, meanwhile kept faith with Sergio Romero ahead of David de Gea in goal, while Chris Smalling was selected ahead of Phil Jones to partner former Ajax player Blind at the heart of the defence.

Both teams paid tribute to the victims of the Manchester terror attack prior to kickoff, and it was the Red Devils with their extra experience that made the stronger start to the match as Pogba fired a volley wide of the target inside the opening minute following a defensive mix-up from Ajax.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given they had named the youngest starting lineup ever for a European final, Ajax took time to settle into the match and, despite seeing the lion’s share of possession in the opening 45 minutes, it was United who always looked in control.

Ajax’s best move of the first half saw them draw the one and only meaningful save from Romero when Bertrand Traore – on loan from Chelsea where he was given his debut by Mourinho – collected a pass from Amin Younes before seeing his effort kept out by the Argentine.

United took the lead just three minutes after that chance, although they needed a sizeable stroke of luck as Pogba’s left-footed strike took a big deflection off Davinson Sanchez to take it beyond Andre Onana in the Ajax goal.

It was a problem which stemmed from a poor throw-in from Jairo Riedewald, though, and that was just one of a number of signs that the nerves were getting to Ajax on the big stage.

United were not exactly creating chances at will themselves, though, and Onona was forced into a relatively rare save to deny Antonio Valencia‘s powerful strike from a tight angle midway through the half.

Mourinho’s side were content to allow Ajax the majority of the ball for the remainder of the half as they remained on course for their first European trophy since the 2008 Champions League title heading into the break, a position which was strengthened less than three minutes after the restart.

United have often failed to kill games off this season, but they went a long way to lifting the trophy when Mkhitaryan flicked an improvised finish past the keeper from close range after Smalling had nodded Juan Mata‘s corner into a dangerous area.

It should have been 3-0 and game over shortly after the hour mark when Pogba floated a ball into the box for Marouane Fellaini to attack, but the Belgian planted his header straight into the arms of Onana.

The Red Devils never looked like surrendering their lead, though, and they could have added to it late on when Jesse Lingard bore down on goal only for Sanchez to race back and make a crucial last-ditch challenge.

Ajax quickly went up the other end and drew a rare stop from Romero when Donny van de Beek cut inside Smalling and went for goal, but it was too little too late for Ajax as they slumped to defeat without ever really having put up a fight.

United, meanwhile, were left to celebrate a new piece of history for the club and now have a return to Champions League football to look forward to next season.

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Articles

Back to top button
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x