The stakes could hardly be higher for Manchester United next Wednesday night as they face Ajax in Stockholm. Win, and they not only lift a first European honour since 2008, but also ensure Champions League football next term. Lose, and well…
No surprise then that it’s a fixture exciting fans across the land, and none more so than the Ladbrokes News team.
We’ve compiled the XI we think Jose Mourinho should start this momentous game with (below), and the formation we’d advise – the 4-3-3 which has proved successful in a number of games this term. So, without further ado, here are our picks…
GK: Sergio Romero
The Argentine keeper has played 11 times for United in Europe this term, conceding just four goals. He also shone in Wednesday night’s 0-0 draw with Southampton at St Mary’s, saving a penalty along the way, taking his season’s clean sheet total to 11 in 17 games.
LB: Daley Blind
Luke Shaw may be fit in time for the trip to Stockholm, but we’d go with Blind anyway. An Ajax player until 2014, he has a good idea of what makes United’s opponents tick, and offers a calm, experienced head. When asked if by media if he’ll play the Dutchman, Mourinho replied: “of course”. But is he double-bluffing?
RB: Antonio Valencia
The Ecuadorian is enjoying an Indian Summer under Jose, who has helped his transformation from winger to right-back with great success.
Tireless, composed and boasting tricky footwork, he’s also had the experience of two Champions League Finals, as well as lifting the Emirates FA Cup and EFL Cup (twice). A man for the big occasion.
CB: Chris Smalling
The 27-year-old captained his side to a hard-fought victory against Southampton in the EFL Cup Final, and has proved himself a genuine organiser in a United side which had previously lacked leadership. Has also won 63% of duels this season.
CB: Phil Jones
With Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly injured and suspended respectively, Jones’ inclusion is more a necessity than a reflection of his merit. The former Blackburn man still tends to run the gamut from impressive to irresponsible, and Mourinho will just have to hope it’s the former that comes out on the big stage in Stockholm.
DCM: Michael Carrick
The proverbial ‘fine wine’ of Man United’s squad, the evergreen midfielder has shone again this term, with his inch-perfect passing, controlled possession and clean challenges. Having also played in three European finals to the club, there’s no doubt he should be playing.
CM: Paul Pogba
Yes, he’s failed to set the Premier League alight so far. No, he hasn’t justified that £89m fee yet. But you’d be foolish to leave the French powerhouse out for a game of this magnitude. Especially so as he produced arguably his best performance in a United shirt in the EFL Cup Final triumph in February.
CM: Ander Herrera
The Spaniard has been in fine form since the start of April, chalking up three assists and one goal – with a virtuoso display in the 2-0 defeat of Chelsea. And if combined with the class of Carrick and the power of Pogba, the former Athletic Bilbao man could produce a midfield holy trinity with his dynamism and creativity.
LW: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Saying that Mkhitaryan enjoys the Europa League is like saying that Harry Redknapp quite enjoys signing Niko Kranjcar or that Lee Cattermole has been known to collect a few yellow cards.
The Armenian has netted five times in his last eight European outings – one goal more than he’s managed in 24 Premier League appearances.
His pace and trickery are obvious attributes, but the Yerevan native also has a remarkable knack for quickly-taken finishes which leave the opposition keeper stranded. Don’t be surprised to see him find the net against Ajax.
RW: Jesse Lingard
Though naturally a left winger, the homegrown hero has acquitted himself superbly on the right flank this term, playing in that position 25 times, and producing three goals and as many assists in the process.
Most importantly, though, he’s a confident player who thrives on the stage of a final. Having netted an extra-time winner in the 2015 Emirates FA Cup Final and registered with an inch-perfect strike in this season’s EFL Cup Final, next Wednesday’s fixture at the Friends Arena could bring the best out of him again.
CF: Marcus Rashford
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic injured, Wayne Rooney fading in importance and Anthony Martial currently looking more like the new David Bellion than a present-day Thierry Henry, this one should be an easy choice for Jose.
Two goals and two assists in United’s last three UEL games shows he’s thriving in this competition, and his electric pace and ruthless finishing will likely prove too much for Ajax to handle.
In the match betting, Man United are 5/6 to win in 90 minutes, with Ajax 16/5 and 13/5 on offer for this game to go to extra-time.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing