It was men against boys in the Europa League final, literally. Manchester United were a team of superstars while Ajax fielded the youngest ever side to play in a European final. Even younger than the famous Ajax team that won the Champions League in 1995 and reached the final again next year. But Ajax weren’t forced into doing it. This team of youngsters had finished second in the Eredivisie and blew away Lyon in the semi-final to reach the final.
But on the night, Manchester United exploited that gulf of experience. Ajax had more possession and made quite a few inroads in the first half. But United stuck to their guns and ensured that they trouble the goalkeeper whenver they go forward. A botched up Ajax throw in, led to a deflected Pogba shot and Manchester United were ahead. It was then more of the same story as Amin Younes and Bertrand Traore kept making inroads into the United area. Every time that happened, the ball would either be wrestled out of their control or their shot would be straight down the throat of Sergio Romero. The first half ended with United sitting deep and Ajax knockiing around, trying to find a way.
But United came out all guns blazing in the second half. They forced a corner that Juan Mata curled in. Smalling managed to get a connection with his head but it was turned in by Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian had his back to goal and turned it in with a hook over the keeper. United were 2-0 up and there was a sense of finality to that. It was then more of the same. Ajax would keep attacking and United would drop ever so deeper. Marcus Rashford was effectively playing as a full back in his final few minutes before being taken off for Anthony Martial.
Wayne Rooney was brought on by Jose Mourinho in the final embers of the game to replace Juan Mata and it was long before the referee blew the final whistle after that. This was United’s 64th match of the season, nearly twice the amount that Premier League champions Chelsea played and the ramifications of that was the number of players in crutches on the pitch at the end of the match.
The win now means that Manchester United gain direct qualification into the Champions League group stages next season. Ajax have already qualified for the Champions Leugue final after finishing second in the Dutch league.