|Attempts on target||11||17|
|Attempts off target||12||10|
Manchester United FC have not participated in a European competition other than the UEFA Champions League since 1995/96 but that will change on Thursday when they open their UEFA Europa League campaign at AFC Ajax.
Defeat at FC Basel 1893 on 7 December left United third in their UEFA Champions League group, and on the same night Ajax were beaten by Real Madrid CF to also transfer to the UEFA Europa League round of 32. This means United now have a chance to emulate Ajax, FC Bayern München and Juventus in lifting all three major continental club trophies, including the former UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, and Wayne Rooney is up for the task.
"There are a lot of quality teams in the tournament, so it is going to be a real challenge," said the England striker. "We want to be in the final and try to win it, no matter if the opposition is from Manchester, Italy, Spain or Holland. We want to be there and want to win it.
It would be great to be the first United team to win the trophy and that's our aim."
Sir Alex Ferguson has indeed taken most of his available squad to Amsterdam, with Patrice Evra rested and Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov, Anders Lindegaard, Nemanja Vidić, Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Michael Owen injured, and the Basel loss is behind them. "That was two months ago, and the disappointment is over now," the manager said.
"We have a lot of young players who do not have much experience in Europe. So being in a European tournament itself should be enough motivation for them. There's a final in Romania, they want to be there, I want to be there and so do my supporters.
"I respect the Ajax history, what Ajax have done for so many years, how they manage to play in the same style, the same system and tactics. That is fantastic and I respect that."
Whereas United have been keeping the pressure on leaders Manchester City FC in England, Ajax have slipped to sixth in the Dutch Eredivisie; Saturday's 2-0 victory at NAC Breda was their first competitive win of 2012. However, midfielder Eyong Enoh tore a hamstring to join Theo Janssen, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, Derk Boerrigter, Gregory van der Wiel and André Ooijer on the casualty list, though left-back Nicolai Boilesen is an option for Frank de Boer after five months out.
De Boer knows the task is tough. "For years United's strength has been their unity. It is the strength of Ferguson that everyone gives all they have got for him, again and again," said the coach, who has been picking the brains of old Ajax team-mate Edwin van der Sar, who ended his career at United last summer. "The conclusion was that Kenneth [Vermeer, the goalkeeper] has an important role in defence if players break through," De Boer said.
Players like Rooney, Nani, [Danny] Welbeck – you cannot give them four or five metres of space. You always have to be within two metres of them, otherwise they have the quality to slip away and then you never see them again. That was the most important tip."
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