Why underdogs Ajax have potential to derail United

Manchester United may be clear favourites in Thursday morning’s UEFA Europa League final, but a rejuvenated and youthful Ajax have the potential to cause an upset and emulate the Dutch side’s 1995 UEFA Champions League triumph.


Ajax celebrate their De Klassieker victory against Feyenoord Source: Getty Images

It appears distant now, but there was a time when Ajax were one of the most feared teams in Europe, playing a scintillating attacking brand of football that captured the world’s attention.

And yes, this was a side coached by “boring” Louis van Gaal.

It culminated in the 1995 Champions League final when a teenage Patrick Kluivert scored the winner against favourite AC Milan.

After a UCL final lost to Juventus in 1996, it’s taken over two decades for Ajax to return to the European bigtime (they hadn’t even reached a semi-final since 1997).

While it’s not a Champions League final, there are still many parallels between the UEFA Europa League finalists and the class of ’95, not least of which is another teenage Kluivert.

Like the final against Milan 22 years ago, Ajax will be considered underdogs against a clinical and well-organised Manchester United desperate to qualify for the Champions League.

But like ‘95, this youthful Ajax team can spring an upset with a fearless and creative approach in keeping with the club’s free-flowing, swashbuckling identity.

While previous coach Frank de Boer kick-started the Amsterdammers revival, it has taken a great leap under Peter Bosz this campaign.

Sure, they missed out on the Eredivisie title by a point, but this squad with an average age of just 22 were excitement machines.

Like the great side of the 1990’s, this team has stars that have come through the famed academy.

There’s 19-year-old Danish striker Kasper Dalberg, a complete forward with skill, vision and composure in front of goal; 24-year-old captain Davy Klassen is the midfield engine and perhaps most exciting of all, Patrick Kluivert’s son, Justin.

The 18 year-old has to yet to cement himself in the first team, but like his father two decades ago, his talent appears undeniable. Could he emulate Kluivert senior by coming off the bench to score a winner in a European final?

The players Ajax have recruited to supplement the academy talents are what truly make this side formidable.

At 30, Lass Shone is the central midfield veteran with his passing and creativity vital in feeding the speed and skill around him.

Morrocan Hakim Ziyech is a deadly on the ball and has a tremendous ability to thread a pinpoint pass.

Dribble master Amin Younes was recently called up to the German national team for the FIFA Confederations Cup and the winger is bound to cause problems for the United defence.

And then there’s the imposing Colombian central defender Davinson Sanchez. The 20-year-old has all the attributes of a potential superstar and is already being linked with a move to Chelsea or Barcelona.

Bosz has been able to gel this group into a dazzling attacking unit, with their quality shining through in the Europa League.

They went unbeaten in the group stage, but it was the 4-1 semi-final 1st leg victory over Lyon that truly demonstrated their potential.

The 3-1 second leg defeat also exposed Ajax’s defensive vulnerability, which Jose Mourinho will be keen to exploit.

Mourinho will be confident that his United side have the defensive organisation to stop Ajax’s attacking force.

Fabio Capello would have felt the same in 1995 when his Milan’s secure defensive unit faced the Amsterdammers.

While this Ajax may not be at the level as Van Gaal’s great teams, it is the most comparable of recent years and is sure to give United a genuine challenge, while also providing a great spectacle for the watching world.

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4 min read
Published 24 May 2017 at 10:17am
By Vitor Sobral