By Antony Jordan
The Europa League competition comes to a close this Wednesday evening as two of the biggest names in European football clash at the Friends Arena in Solna, Sweden aiming to take the title and a Champions League place for next season. Will it be Ajax who claim their first trophy of the season or can Manchester United add this European crown to their EFL Cup victory from earlier this season?
We preview this major competition decider with online sportsbook Bet365.com to provide you with the best Europa League Final picks:
Ajax have no fresh injury concerns for this decider as they look to claim their first European crown 22 years to the day after they last lifted the Champions League title by defeating AC Milan. However, after Nick Viergever saw red in the defeat of Lyon over two legs, they will be without the experience defender for this match.
Manchester United are also without a defender for this clash as Eric Bailly saw red in the second leg of the Semi Finals, and with Chris Smalling and Marouane Fellaini both doubtful for this final it is Ajax who have the stronger squad to choose from for this Wednesday night game.
In the Europa League Ajax have struggled on their travels this season and are without a win in six games in the competition, including losing at FC Copenhagen, Schalke and Lyon in their last three matches. They needed a last second goal in extra time to ensure their passage to the Semi Finals against Schalke, but with just a single win in eight away matches in Europe this season they will be fearful going into this clash away from their comfort zone of the Amsterdam Arena. Despite this they have failed to score on their European travels just once this season and this will give them some hope of scoring early and keeping United out so that they can claim the title.
United have had a very different experience in the Europa League this season as they come into this decider having not lost a single game since the group stages. They have, however, found it difficult to see off teams though as their last three ties against Rostov (who defeated Ajax in the Champions League play offs), Anderlecht and Celta Vigo were all won by a single goal over two legs. They have three clean sheets in their last five away games in Europe and, in our opinion, are the deserved favourites to triumph in Sweden this Wednesday evening.
These two sides have clashed on just four previous occasions and it has been the EPL side who have had the better of things in both of these two legged ties. The teams first met in the 1976 UEFA Cup and following a 1-0 home win for Ajax it was United who progressed thanks to a 2-0 home win of their own and the second meeting in this competition at the start of 2012 it was United who triumphed 2-0 in the Netherlands before progressing 3-2 on aggregate despite losing on home soil.
We are looking forward to this final as both of these teams have enough strengths and weaknesses in their attacking and defensive positions to provide goals in Solna on Wednesday evening. There is plenty of value to be had on goals between these sides and we certainly see this happening, but the big question is who will lift the trophy?
Ajax were fighting until the last day in the Dutch league for the title, while Manchester United had long given up on the EPL and have focused on this competition as a method to reach the Champions League next season. With this in mind coupled with United’s much better record in the competition this season we feel that the EPL side will be the one’s claiming their first European title since the 2009 Champions League.