Thoughts: United – Ajax (Europa League)

Venue: Old Trafford

Date: 23rd Feb 2012
Kickoff2005 hrs GMT (0135 hrs IST)
Manchester United are looking to move on to the next round of the Europa League having done half the job. With a 2-0 lead going into the second leg, few would bet against United moving on…but then again, stranger things have happened. United looked far from comfortable in the first leg, but with their superior quality in front of goal they emerged with, what was described by Sir Alex Ferguson as a “flattering” score line.
Ajax are still struggling in their domestic league and with are currently in 6th position, five points off leaders PSV. After their defeat to United in the first leg, Ajax though bounced back by drubbing NEC Nijmegen 4-1 in the league over the weekend.
The last time United won the first leg in a European tie and were knocked out came in 2007 against AC Milan, when they won the first round at home 3-2 but lost the away tie 0-3. United have lost just two home games in all European fixtures in the past decade, and their last home loss was against Besiktas (2009) and before that to Deportivo La Coruna (2001).
The midfield would be the main battle ground with Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley being the key for United, and Siem De Jong and Christian Eriksen for Ajax. The latter duo has scored 12 goals between them this season and would be the main source of attack. De Jong and Eriksen would look to link up with Miralem Sulejmani, whose crosses would be the biggest source of threat for the United backline.
Possible Line Ups:
Manchester United: Alex Ferguson is finally seeing daylight after having a major chunk of his team injured for the better part of the season and would like to rotate a few of his players.
United though are still dealing with injuries to Nemanja Vidić (knee), Anders Lindegaard (ankle), Anderson (knock), Michael Owen (thigh), Darren Fletcher (bowel) and Ryan Giggs(ankle). They also had a blow when their in-form winger, Valencia took a knock in the last match and would be unavailable for the next few weeks. Chris Smalling though is likely to make a return after his injury. Ferguson might have one eye on the weekend match against high-flying Norwich and would thus look to rest key players like Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernández
De Gea, Smalling, Jones, Evans, Fabio, Park, Cleverly, Carrick, Young, Berbatov, Welbeck
Ajax: Ajax have their list of injuries with the likes of Derk Boerrigter (back), Andre Ooijer (strain), Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (Malleolar injury), Gregory Van Der Wiel (Groin strain), Theo Janssen (groin), Eyong Enoh and Nicolai Boilesen (hamstring) all on the treatment table. The Dutch would need an inspired performance by their starting eleven if they are to continue in this tournament.
Vermeer, Koppers, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Anita, Eriksen, Aissati, De Jong, Sulejmani, Ozbiliz, Bulykin
Players to watch out for:
Tom Cleverly: The England hopeful has been out for the better part of the season but is just in time to help see his team through the business end of it. Cleverly was responsible for the high flying start United enjoyed when the season kicked off and with the praise recently being showered on him by United legends Bryan Robson and Nicky Butt, Tom Cleverley would do his image no harm with a performance worthy of their comments.
Christian Erikson: With clubs like Barcelona, Chelsea, AC Milan, Liverpool and even Manchester United all vying to sign him over the summer transfer window, Erickson is already a star. He wasn’t able to have the kind of influence he would have liked in the home fixture but would love to stamp his authority now.
Prediction: Ajax would be attacking right from kickoff and they do have more than enough players who can find the back of the net. On the other hand, United are dominant at home and are well known for their counter attacks. Thus if Ajax venture forward with too many men, United might punish them. United should see this one through, but do expect a goal from the Dutch side. 2-1 to United.
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