The fight for a UEFA Champions League slot has added a new vibe to the Europa League as teams have taken it seriously more than ever before and when Ajax clash with Manchester United in Stockholm tomorrow evening it promises to be a football spectacle.
Both teams were once feared in Europe as they conquered their respectively leagues but have not matched that invincibility in recent years. They even failed to win their respective leagues this campaign with the Red Devils coming off worst with a sixth placed finish which makes winning the second tier UEFA competition for Jose Mourinho’s men.
It been a long time coming for Ajax as it is their first European final since 1996 but they have won 10 of their previous 14 and facing Manchester United will be the 15th time in the final for the Dutch giants.
For the Red Devils, they have just won six of their previous 11 European finals, and have lost their last three. The Europa League is the only European trophy that the 20-time English champions are yet to win.How they got to the final
Ajax pulled off a remarkable win against Lyon in the semifinals. The Dutch giants crushed the French side 4-1 in the first leg at the Amsterdam Arena before losing 3-1 in the return leg but qualified on a 5-4 aggregate.
Manchester United were not any generous as they pulled off a professional 1-0 win against Celta Vigo away in Spain in the first leg despite suffering multiple injuries to the squad with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rojo, Ashley Young, Phil Jones, and Chris Smalling all missing.Read Also | Europa Final: Cow predicts Ajax will beat Man United
They had a scare in the return leg at Old Trafford but pulled through with a 2-1 win to qualify on a 3-1 aggregate.Head-to-Head
It is the fifth meeting between Ajax and Manchester United with both teams winning two of the previous four fixtures.
Their first two clashes occurred in the 1976 UEFA Cup, with Man United progressing to the second round courtesy of a 2-1 aggregate victory following a 2-0 victory in Manchester after losing the first leg 1-0 in Amsterdam.
The most recent meetings between both sides came in the last-32 stage of the 2011-12 Europa League, and again it was the Red Devils that progressed.Team News
Ajax will be without the experienced defender Nick Viergever, who picked a red card against Lyon during the semifinal second leg of the Europa League. Apart from that they have no fresh injury worries.
Eric Bailly will not be available for Manchester United as he was shown a straight red card against Celta Vigo at Old Trafford.
Marouane Fellaini and Chris Smalling are major injury doubts for the final while Sergio Romero is expected to start in goal ahead of David de Gea.
Managers QuotePeter Bosz, Ajax manager
"We will play our 56th game next Wednesday," he told reporters. "If you look at our age, we have a really young team that has played a lot of games.
"We trained with 24 players today, with no one injured so instead of looking at United, I look at my team. We are fit and fresh and that's a great way to prepare the team for next Wednesday."
"I feel no pressure. Everyone dreams of these games, so there's no pressure, just a big opportunity."Jose Mourinho, Manchester United
"They are a Champions League team, they come from the Champions League. I always disagree with it. I don't think a team should play two European competitions in a season.
"If you don't qualify [for the Champions League] I think they should go home. We finish fifth [in the Premier League] last year. We went into the Europa League. We started the Europa League from beginning of season and we have to fight to get where we are." Prediction: Ajax 2-3 Manchester United (after extra-time)