United down Ajax to lift Europa League for the first time in their history
Manchester United 2 ( Pogba 18′, Mkhitaryan 48′ ) AFC Ajax 0.
Manchester United won the UEFA Europa League for the first time in their history courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Ajax in Wednesday’s final in Stockholm.
Paul Pogba and Mkhitaryan’s strikes proved to be too much for Ajax as Manchester United not only sealed an epic UEL victory but also booked a place in the UCL and that too in an epic fashion.
The match was overshadowed by Monday’s terror attack at the Manchester Arena, which killed 22 people, and a minute’s silence was observed before kick-off in front of a boisterous but respectful crowd at Friends Arena.
Ajax were playing their first European final since losing to Juventus in the Champions League in 1996. Ajax lacked the attacking precision that saw them score five goals across two legs against both Schalke and Lyon.
United chose to sit back and defend in the final half-hour and their lead was rarely under threat too, as they became the fifth team to win the Champions League, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup and returned to Europe’s top table in style.
Earlier, Ajax named the youngest starting line-up ever in a major European final. They make five changes from the side that beat Willem II, with Jairo Riedewald playing his way into the final team following Nick Viergiver’s suspension in the semi-finals.
Eric Bailly was suspended, too, for United. Chris Smalling came in and Juan Mata replaced Jesse Lingard. Only Paul Pogba kept his place from Sunday’s Premier League triumph over Crystal Palace, where Mourinho experimented with his team.
This match wasn’t just about lifting the second major European silverware but it was also the last train to the Champions League station for Manchester United. Ajax had already secured entry to next season’s Champions League – at the third qualifying round again – Mourinho’s men needed nothing less than a win to dine at Europe’s top table in the coming campaign.
Ajax had a nervy start as Andre Onana clattered into a defender as he came to meet Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s cross, the ball broke for Pogba to shoot wide.
United started well and they had their first sight on the goal in the 3rd minute when Rashford, who was spinning from a Mkhitaryan’s pass into the box was quickly closed down.
Pogba and Fellaini were hustling and bustling in the midfield, winning balls and giving no room for Ajax’s young guns to settle down.
The first real chance to score in the match came from Ajax’s side in the 15th minute when Amin Younes threaded the ball inside from the left to Bertrand Traore, who blasted at goal and – unfortunately for Ajax – straight at Sergio Romero.
United made amendments by chipping in the first goal of the night and it was their world-record signing Pogba who gave them the much important lead. Fellaini teed up Pogba after an awful Riedewald throw-in had needlessly gifted the ball to Mata in a dangerous position. Shooting on his left foot from the edge of the box, the ball skipped up off the advancing Sanchez and wrongfooted Onana to enter the back of the net and name the scoreline 1-0.
Ajax were in no mood to settle down, build up the play and then attack. They wanted an instant response and started creating pressure on the United defence. They got 2 corners as a result but that didn’t yield anything.
Manchester United’s Valencia had a good chance to score and hand over a two goal cushion to the Red Devils within the opening 24 minutes but Onana did well to deny Valencia. Fellaini switched a wonderful pass into his captain’s path, the full-back burning past his man to fire at goal.
Individual Skills and some brilliant team game was put on display by Ajax but they were unable to find a way past the defence of the Manchester Giants.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan conceded a number of fouls on Veltman, prompting the referee to show a yellow to him.
Traore took a beautiful run in the 39th minute and progressed down the Ajax right, skipping past a couple of challenges, but, inside the area, he couldn’t make room for a shot as Blind dived in.
United’s approach was not pretty, but it wasn’t needed to be. Ajax had opted for a patient, passing game, as you’d expect, but one too many stray pass had prevented them from threatening Romero.
The players returned to the dressing room with the score locked at 1-0.
United doubled their lead immediately after the half-time through Mkhitaryan. Daley Blind’s inswinging corner was headed down by Chris Smalling, and Mkhitaryan hooked the ball into the roof of the net.
David Neres replaced the anoymous Kasper Dolberg as he sought to give Ajax some much-needed attacking vigour but United wasted a great chance to kill any hopes of a possible Ajax comeback when Fellaini headed straight at Onana after being picked out by Pogba in the 65th minute.
Sanchez showcased come excellent defensive skills to prevent the scoreline from gliding up. He made some timely tackles to put the opponents in his check but that proved to be worthless as Ajax failed to score a goal against the Red Devils. They enjoyed 69% of the possession but failed to trouble Romero. United, meanwhile, were happy to sit back and defend their 2 goal lead.
United gave a late run-out to captain Wayne Rooney in what could be his final match for the club. Jose Mourinho’s side have now booked a place in the Champions League and it remains to be seen whether they can repeat these type of heroics in the UCL or not.