UEFA Europa League final: expert predictions
Wednesday, 24 May 2017
Ajax are young and exciting; United are patient and wily; Europe's experts are on the same page when it comes to assessing the teams, but who do they think will win? UEFA.com discovers.
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Who will win? UEFA.com rounds up the views of football experts and club insiders ahead of tonight's UEFA Europa League final between Ajax and Manchester United.
Ryan Giggs, former Man. United winger speaking to the BBC
It's a big game, I don't know whether it's the biggest in history but it's an important game. It's a competition which United have never won and with what is at stake, getting into the Champions League. Ajax are a young, dynamic team who have looked really good in some games but I think we just edge it in experience that we got and José's experience in big games.
Frank Arnesen, former Ajax player and ex-Tottenham sporting director
It would be a disaster for United if they lose. Mourinho's gameplan will be to do everything they can to destroy Ajax's game … Their entire season comes down to this single match. If they win, it has been a success, because then they have won the League Cup, the Europa League and qualified for the Champions League. Mourinho has been in 13 finals and won 11 of them, so he has a big advantage here. Man for man, United are better, but not as a team.
Sjaak Swart, three-time European Cup-winning Ajax winger
On paper, Manchester United are the favourites but I think this young Ajax team can handle the pressure. But we have to convert the chances we get, because that is the biggest problem for Ajax at this moment.
Danny Blind, 1992 UEFA Cup winner with Ajax, and father of United's Daley Blind
United have a much more experienced team, players like Rooney, Mata, Smalling, who are used on playing at this level. Ajax have a young group of talented, enthusiastic players, so it will be interesting to see how the final goes. Obviously, I hope my son Daley wins because I always want the best for him, but if that doesn't happen, it will be a consolation that the club where I won so much has won it.
Phil Neville, former United defender
José Mourinho has great experience, not just of the big occasions but of winning them. He is a serial winner and knows how to set up a team to win a final, and that is where I think United have the greatest advantage. It is a one-off game and finals are so unpredictable – but, under Mourinho, they will be ready.
Lothar Matthäus, two-time UEFA Cup winner
Ajax have nothing to lose and it should be an open game. They can play as they want, without being afraid. But I always feel experience is so valuable in a final and United have far more of that. Mourinho will know how to close the game down, as well, if they get in front. The last European final he was involved in saw Inter beat Bayern 2-0 in the 2010 Champions League. I expect the same score in Stockholm.
Rio Ferdinand, former United defender
The pace and energy in this [Ajax] team will be a concern for United. More importantly, with young players comes a fearless factor. Their attacking players are the threats. They're young, quick and hungry kids. There's extra pressure, definitely. They have to handle that [pressure] and get on with it, and concentrate on what it is they need to do to win.
Edgar Davids, 1995 UEFA Champions League winner with Ajax
At Manchester United you have men, at Ajax you still have boys. Mourinho's tactics will be to sit back and be tight, and that will suit Ajax for their pressing game but if you have two or three players who are really fast like Rashford and Martial? The power of Ajax is the pressing, but if you press and the ball goes over the top of your defence, it is the guy who is the quickest who has the best chance.
Martin Keown, former Arsenal defender
I think United's wise heads and Mourinho's experience of closing out finals will tell in the end. This is so important for United.
Aad de Mos, former Ajax coach
Ajax can play pressing football while United have a lot of static players, although they can be dangerous on the counter with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. I think Ajax will have a lot of possession and create a lot of chances. That makes Ajax 100% the favourites for me.
Sijtje, the psychic Dutch cow
Sijtje, a cow famous in the Netherlands for its predictive powers, has forecasted an Ajax victory. Sijtje's owner lays out various buckets of labelled food, with his prize cattle then let out of its enclosure – whichever one he eats from first supposedly goes on to win! Sijtje gobbled from the Ajax bucket this time round.
Leonid Slutski, former CSKA Moskva and Russia coach
United are clear favourites. Their players are experienced title contenders with a winning mentality, and they even rested some players for the final. Supporters sometimes want football to defy logic and it is beautiful because of occasional shocks and unpredictable results, but I would bet on United and see them winning comfortably, by a two-goal margin.
Deividas Šemberas, 2005 UEFA Cup winner with CSKA Moskva
Finals are always tough to predict but I would give United a 60% of winning. They have better individual players and a very experienced coach in Mourinho... I'm biased though - I'm a United fan and I want them to win.
Marians Pahars, former Latvia coach and Southampton striker
Finals are unpredictable, but I see United as favourites. I like their style and spent a number of years in England, so English football will always be close to my heart.