After a disappointing 6th-place finish in the English Premier League, the only way José Mourinho and Manchester United are going to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season is by defeating Dutch Eredivisie side Ajax in the UEFA Europa League Final on Wednesday in Stockholm.
Ajax Amsterdam vs. Manchester United (FS1, Fox Soccer 2GO USA, ESPN Deportes, fuboTV [US], BT Sport 2 [UK], ESPN Play Argentina, FOX Play Latin America [CRC, DR], 2:45 p.m. ET): Friends Arena in Solna, Sweden, is the site of the 2017 UEFA Europa League Final on Wednesday between Dutch Eredivisie side Ajax and English Premier club Manchester United in the first EL Final not to feature a club from Spain’s La Liga since 2012/13 (Chelsea-Benfica). Sportsbooks have made MUFC solid -115 favorites here with Amsterdam priced at +280 and a Draw at +264 on the three-way line (Heritage). The Total is 2½u -145 (BetCRIS), and with the game meaning so much to both -- instant qualification into the Group Stage of this tournament’s big brother, the lucrative Champions League, next season. There are two solid GKs in United’s Sergio Romero and Ajax’s 21-year-old André Onana.
Manager José Mourinho and Manchester United (18-15-5, 27 GF-13 GA, 54 GF-29 GA; 5th-place finish in EPL) have already won the EFL Cup and Community Shield but this is the match The Special One and the Red Devils really want and really need to qualify for the UEFA Champions League -- something Mourinho made a priority weeks ago in almost conceding his squad wouldn’t finish in the top four in England’s top flight of football. MUFC ousted Celta de Vigo in the Semis, 2-1 on aggregate in two stone-cold 'Unders' (MUFC 1-0 CELTA, CELTA 1-1 MUFC), and the Red Devils are 10-2-2 in this tournament outscoring opponents 25-8 with 6 of its L7 EL matches seeing less than 2½ goals scored. In Leg 2 of its Semifinal series with Celta de Vigo, MUFC employed a Starting XI of: GK Romero, LB Darmian; CB Bailly, CB Blind, RB Valencia; DM Herrera; DM Fellaini; MF Pogba, AMF Lingard, AMF Mkhitaryan; F Rashford. Mourinho will have to be creative as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo will all miss with Injuries, Eric Bailly will miss after a Red Card vs. Celta while stellar #1 GK David De Gea will reportedly sit.
So the Red Devils will need players like the ailing Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera, Chris Smalling (Toe) and Phil Jones, whom Mourinho is reportedly debating between starting at CB next to Blind, maybe even veterans Marouane Fellaini, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata to step up in Stockholm in a game which will define Manchester United’s season. But Mourinho starting Romero over De Gea may be his biggest decision in a Roster still loaded with talent.
Manager Peter Bosz, Kasper Dolberg (6 goals, EL) and Ajax (25-6-3, 79 GF-23 GA, 2nd in Dutch Eredivisie) will be playing in their first European Final since 1996 when de Godenzonen ended up losing to Juventus on Penalty Kicks. Chelsea loanee Bertrand Traore (4 goals EL) Ajax has gone 8-4-2 (24 GF-15 GA) to get here, holding off Ligue 1’s Lyon in their Semifinal series, 5-4 on aggregate after a soul-sucking 4-0 Leg 1 for the French side in Holland (AJAX 4-0 LYON, LYON 4-1 AJAX). In Leg 2 against Lyon, Ajax had a Starting XI of: GK Onana (below); LB D Viergever, CB De Ligt, CB Sanchez, RB Veltman; MF Ziyech, MF Schöne, MF Klaassen; F Younes, F Traore, F Dolberg.
Expect the extremely young -- they average 22 years old -- Ajax side to come quick with its customary uptempo attack against defensive-minded Manchester United with speed possibly being an advantage for Amin Younes (4 goals EL), Hakim Ziyech (2 goals EL) and Ajax, which may need that first goal -- if there is one more than the more experienced and theoretically hungrier Red Devils. Being here in this UEFA Europa League Final is really a very big thing for this club, this particular league and this proud soccer-loving country.
Weather Forecast, Conclusions, Picks
TWC forecast for suburban Stockholm (Solna) Wednesday night callis for a few Clouds, a Low of 49° with SW Winds of 5-10 mph. With 6 of L8 and 4 of L5 UEFA Europa League Finals seeing 3 or more goals -- the 0-0 Sevilla-Benfica final in 2013/14 (Sevilla won 4-2 on PKs) is lone exception with 3 goals or less -- in 4 these L5 five Finals, looking (or waiting) for a Total of 2 (-146, 5Dimes) and paying the price iseems wise with a Push possible and Pogba and Rashford possibly helping the tactical Mourinho and Machester United (-222 to Lift Trophy, Intertops) finish with a cherry-red bang. With so much at stake here, both clubs may desperately look to score first which could lead to a mistake-goal on the counter-attack. This should be great theater.Predicted Score: Manchester United 2, Ajax 2 (MUFC wins on PKs)Free Soccer Pick To Lift Trophy: Manchester United -222Best Line Offered: Intertops