Almost everything is at stake for both finalists as Manchester United face Ajax at Friends Arena in Solna, Sweden in the Europa League final.
The Red Devils have sacrificed their campaign to the Premier League top four to concentrate on winning the only silverware that hasn’t graced United’s cramped trophy rack, and winning the final will get them a ticket to the Champions League next season.
Ajax, too, had a tough time managing both their domestic league campaign and their challenge for the Europa League title, and after losing the Eredivisie trophy to Feyenoord by just a point, they will go out with everything to end this season with one championship in hand.
THE SERIOUS ONE
United defeated Crystal Palace 2-0 on the last day of the English top flight despite fielding a very inexperienced lineup, but manager Jose Mourinho did not even smile after the game and did not wait long for reporters to ask him questions in his post-game media appearance, saying “bye guys” before standing up and walking out of the press room.
Mou can almost hear United officials breathing down on his neck, since he has concentrated more on winning the Europa League than challenging for a final four finish in the league. If they lose this coming final, they will miss the Champions League, and along with it £50 million in sponsorship revenues.
He has prepared his lineup for this final, but some of his key players are still questionable. He is already without star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and experienced defender Marcus Rojo.
The Old Trafford club are the clear favorites on paper, but they barely dominated anyone in their journey to the ultimate stage.
Aside from their 4-0 two-leg win over Saint Etienne in the Round of 32, they had difficulty in beating Russian side Rostov (2-1 on agg), Belgian club Anderlecht (3-2 on agg) and then Spanish side Celta Vigo (2-1 on agg).
Ajax also did not cruise past any team towards the final, but they are a young side that are hardly expected to win, so they are not facing any real pressure, according to manager Peter Bosz.
The team’s top scorer in the Europa League is 19-year-old Kasper Dolberg, who has six goals in 12 appearances. Their second best scorer is Amin Younes, 23, while their keeper Andre Onana is just 21.
That’s why despite Bosz and his wards becoming the first Dutch team to play in a European final since 2002, the manager is not pressured.
“No, actually I don’t feel any pressure at all,” said Bosz. “I see a lot of opportunities, instead of pressure. Everyone has been dreaming of playing this kind of final. So I don’t feel pressure, only a big, big opportunity.”