Europa League Final Preview

The 2016/17 football season is almost at an end, with a host of finals coming up this week.  Direct Soccer will be previewing a few of the major games coming up including the Europa League Final which takes place on Wednesday 24th May. The venue for UEFA's second biggest club game is the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.  This stadium has a capacity of 48,000 so will be full to capacity for the match between Dutch giants Ajax and the world famous Manchester United. As well as winning the UEFA Cup, the side who prevails will represent the Europa League in the Super Cup Final in August against either Real Madrid or Juventus and have the added prize of gaining entry to the Champions League in the 2017/18 season.  Ajax have already qualified for the Champions League, albeit the Third Qualifying Round so far, but victory for them will gain them automatic entry to the group stages.  For United, this game is the club's last chance this season of making European football's premier club competition next campaign after a disappointing 6th place finish in the league left them relying on winning the Europa League to get back to the top table of European football. [caption id="attachment_2487" align="alignleft" width="252"] The last English team to win the Europa League were Chelsea in 2012-13, will Man United get their hands on this trophy tomorrow night?[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2492" align="alignleft" width="300"] Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of a few players to play for both Ajax and Manchester United, though the star Swedish striker will be a big miss for the Red Devils due to injury.[/caption]                                 Ajax's route to the final saw them enter the Europa League at the Group Stage after exiting the Champions League in the Play-off round.  The Dutch side finished top of Group G with 14 points out of a possible 18 to reach the last 32.  In this round they had a closely fought encounter with Polish side Legia Warsaw, prevailing 1-0 to reach the last 16 stage.  A 2-1 first leg defeat to FC Copenhagen was turned around with a 2-0 win in the Amsterdam Arena.  Ajax battled through the Quarter Finals by beating German side Schalke 04 over two legs, though they required extra-time to do so.  Their place in the final looked assured after a 4-1 demolishing of French team Lyon in the 1st leg of the Semi-final, but the nerves set in for the return leg in France where they hung on to a 5-4 aggregate victory. José Mourinho's first season in charge at Old Trafford saw the side take part in the Europa League through winning the 2016 FA Cup, Louis van Gaal's last act as United boss.  Placed in Group A, the Red Devils got off to a bad start with a 1-0 defeat at Feyenoord before bouncing back with home wins over Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine and Fenerbahçe.  A 2-1 defeat in Turkey left the club's hopes in the balance but they came back in style to beat Feyenoord at home 4-0 before a 2-0 win in the Ukraine booked their place in the knockout rounds by finishing runners-up in the group. United brushed aside Saint Étienne 4-0 on aggregate in the Round of 32 then reached the Quarter Finals with a 2-1 win over Ajax's conquerors in the Champions League, Rostov, in the last 16. United needed extra-time to see off Belgian side Anderlecht in the last 8 before reaching the final following a 2-1 aggregate win against Spain's Celta Vigo. [caption id="attachment_2488" align="alignleft" width="221"] United and Ajax's kits take inspiration from the Condivo 16 jersey which you can buy now at Direct Soccer. This cool, lightweight jersey featuring adizero offers a performance fit and is one of the top jerseys in the game today.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2489" align="alignleft" width="137"] Both Ajax and United will likely warm-up for the big match in Condivo 16 training wear. You can own your game by buying great adidas Condivo 16 training wear from Direct Soccer now, such as these top quality training pants.[/caption]                                         Top scorers for Man Utd in the Europa League this season with 5 goals each have been Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic with 5 goals each, though the Swedish superstar is going to be missing from the final after suffering an injury in earlier Europa League action this year.  This could be the perfect occasion for Marcus Rashford to signal his intent to be a top striker for years to come while it could also be a United swansong for Wayne Rooney.  For Ajax, Danish forward Kasper Dolberg has banged in 6 goals in the Europa League so far and is the dangerman as far as United need to be concerned.  Both teams will need a few goals from one of their top scorers to take over the title of top scorer in this year's competition which so far is duly shared between Roma's Edin Dzeko and Zenit's Giuliano on 8 goals each. While both sides have an illustrious history in European football - Ajax are one of only a few sides to hold the Triple Crown of European Cup, Cup Winners Cup and the UEFA Cup, while United will want to win the Europa League to join this exclusive club after wins in the European Cup in 1968, 1999 and 2008 and Cup Winners Cup success in 1991 - they have only met each other in competitive action twice, both in the UEFA Cup/Europa League.  The first time the sides met was in the 1976/77 season, in the First Round of the UEFA Cup.  Ajax were at the tail-end of their success in the 1970's at this point, and after a 1-0 win at home, were confident of winning through at Old Trafford.  However "the 100-mile-an-hour team" shook the Dutch side and won 2-0 to progress with goals from Lou Macari and Sammy McIlroy. [caption id="attachment_2491" align="alignleft" width="300"] One of the best goalkeepers of all-time, Dutchman Edwin van der Sar played for both Ajax (1990-99) and Man Utd (2005-11). A winner of the European Cup in 1995 and 2008, he is now back at Ajax as the club's CEO.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2490" align="alignleft" width="300"] "Yip Jaap Stam is a big Dutchman" went the song from the Stretford End during the towering Dutch defender's spell at Old Trafford between 1998 and 2001. Uncompromising in the tackle, but also blessed with a great touch, Stam was one of the world's best defenders at his peak. He retired from the game in 2007 at Ajax.[/caption]                                   The next time the sides met was in the 2011/12 Europa League round of 32.  United won the first leg over in Amsterdam 2-0 with goals from Ashley Young and Chicharito and were 3-0 up on aggregate early in the 2nd leg before Ajax responded with goals from Aras Özbiliz and Toby Alderweireld to put Fergie's men into "squeaky bum" territory.  As with all finals though, form goes out of the window, it will be a case of who shows the most hunger and desire in order to win one of European football's most famous trophies tomorrow night. To celebrate this match, our friends at adidas have given a great prize for you to win.  You can win an official Europa League Match Football (worth £99.95) by simply logging onto our Direct Soccer Facebook page and predicting what you think the score will be in this match.  Terms and conditions can be found on the Facebook post, good luck!