UEFA Europa League Final
AFC Ajax vs. Manchester United
Venue: Friends Arena, Stockholm
Date: Wednesday, 24 May 2017
Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Manchester United secured the Europa League trophy for the first time in their history and progressed to the Champions League for next season in the process by defeating AFC Ajax 2-0 in the final.
Goals from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were enough to see off Peter Bosz’s youthful Ajax side, as Jose Mourinho claimed his fourth European crown of his managerial career.
This victory also sees United join Ajax, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Juventus as the only club’s to claim all three major European trophies; Champions League, Europa League formerly the UEFA Cup and the now deceased Cup Winners Cup.
In the club’s seventh major European final of their illustrious history, a minute’s silence was observed before the game to remember the 22 victims of Manchester’s tragic terror attack on Monday, as well as the family and friends of those affected.
United made their city proud as a great sense of unity was produced, and Pogba volleyed wide as early as the first minute as Ajax keeper Andre Onana became involved in a mix-up with Joel Veltman.
Marcus Rashford saw a testing cross cleared before smart movement off the ball from Juan Mata ended with his volleyed cross just missing the head of the onrushing Marouane Fellaini.
The defensive side of Pogba was present as he did well to head clear Amin Younes’ cross before the latter teed up Chelsea loanee Bertrand Traore who fired straight at the capable gloves of Sergio Romero who has impressed this season.
Just as the Dutch side began to settle after a dominant opening ten from United, the breakthrough was made.
Neat play on the right-hand side in and around the penalty area ended with Fellaini’s square pass to Pogba who found space from on the edge of the box, and his left-footed strike deflected off of Davinson Sanchez, wrong-footing Onana in the process to give Mourinho’s side the lead.
Looking to make amends, Sanchez headed over from a corner before Pogba again showed he can be just as reliable at the back to clear a corner via his head to relieve some pressure and invite some welcome respite for his defence.
Deservedly the Players’ Player of the Year, captain for the night Antonio Valencia burst down the right flank before his powerful drive was beaten away by Onana.
Younes was showing just why he’s been called up to the German first team national side and his wicked delivery from the left flashed across goal unmet.
Fine dribbling from Traore looked to create an opening but Daley Blind, formerly of Ajax, got a crucial toe on the ball which allowed centre-back partner Chris Smalling to clear.
Superb defending from Matteo Darmian saw the Italian shield the ball behind for a goal-kick as Traore looked to create an opening as half-time arrived after a professional and comfortable opening 45 from United.
After the interval, Mkhitaryan, who was booked in opening period for his third foul and often struggled tracking back made atone by scoring the second of the night.
Fellaini did well to win a corner, but with set pieces underwhelming this season, not much was expected until Mata’s delivery was nodded down by Smalling and Mkhitaryan flicked the ball home from close range.
Looking for the pace of Rashford to stretch the game, Sanchez made a fantastic tackle to deny the Englishman a run at goal before 17 year old Matthijs de Ligt used his body well to thwart Mata inside the area.
If there was one player you’d want on the end of a cross it would be Fellaini but his header was struck straight at Onana after Pogba’s excellent cross.
With 20 minutes remaining and a dangerous free-kick lined up, Hakim Ziyech could only hit the wall, as Sanchez used his strength to shrug off Pogba at the other end who was wishfully looking for a penalty.
Substitute Jesse Lingard raced clear with less than five minutes to spare but once again Sanchez recovered to deny the pacy attacker before club captain Wayne Rooney appeared off the bench for what could be his final appearance for the club.
He was handed the armband by Valencia as a great gesture and he was able to lift the trophy come full-time, joining Michael Carrick as becoming the first player to win the Premier League, Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, League Cup, Club World Cup and Community Shield in a glittering career.
The jubilant celebrations were joined by injured squad members including Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his home country, as well as Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw and Ashley Young, of whom all have played their part in this 15 match run to victory.
Those who believe in omens would’ve known it was exactly 22 years to the day since Ajax lifted the Champions League under Mourinho’s predecessor Louis van Gaal, and United’s campaign began with a defeat in blue against a side from the Netherlands wearing red and white in the form of Feyenoord.
This wasn’t to be for Ajax, however, and you feel for their side, who boasted an average age of just 22, including Sanchez who was admittedly outstanding on the night and was unfortunate with the deflection for the opening goal.
The big picture saw a controlled and professional performance from United, as a Mourinho big game masterclass was on show.
This writer posed a prediction to a colleague who stated a comfortable United win, scoring midway through the first half and early after the break without going gung-ho but seeing it out in true Mourinho fashion which was more or less spot on.
Having already secured the Community Shield and EFL Cup, becoming the first manager to win a trophy in his first season as United boss, Mourinho can label this campaign a success, and were unfortunate to be knocked out of the FA Cup after Ander Herrera’s questionable dismissal.
In the 64th fixture of a gruelling season, the second highest in one campaign for an English club in Premier League history, the league was all but sacrificed to allow rest and preparation for this competition.
It was worth it in the end as all four summer signings in particular made positive impacts, with this coming transfer window expected to excite, especially with the return of Champions League to Old Trafford.
Tuesday, 8 August sees the Super Cup in Skopje, Macedonia, where Mourinho could face former side Real Madrid and the chance to see Cristiano Ronaldo once more, or Pogba could face his former club Juventus, as United await the winner’s of next week’s Champions League final.
The club goes on, adding to their trophy cabinet, in what can be described as a good season at its close.
United: Romero; Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Darmian; Fellaini, Herrera, Pogba; Mata (Rooney 90), Rashford (Martial 84), Mkhitaryan (Lingard 74).
Subs not used: De Gea, Jones, Fosu-Mensah, Carrick.
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Ajax: Onana; Veltman, Sanchez, de Ligt, Riedewald (de Jong 82); Klaasen, Schone (van de Beek 70), Ziyech; Traore, Dolberg (Neres 62), Younes.
Subs not used: Boer, Tete, Westermann, Kluivert.
Manager: Peter Bosz