Reds venture into the new for Ajax tie

Manchester United makes an appearance in Europe’s second tier competition for the first time since losing to Rotor Volograd in September 1995. Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has not missed a Champions League campaign since Paul Scholes and Peter Schmeichel scored in the 2-2 draw with the Russian outfit at Old Trafford. The draw, in the then UEFA Cup, sent United tumbling out at the first round stage on away goals.

Ferguson’s team returns to the now revamped Europa League having suffered a truly dreadful Champions League group campaign. Whether an issue of complacency, injuries or Ferguson’s side simply not being good enough, the Scot’s side is now firmly relegated to Europe, division two following defeat to FC Basel in Switzerland before Christmas.

Yet, Ajax versus United is the glamour tie of the round – one that, on paper at least, should be taking place in the continent’s premier tournament. Adding to the intrigue, the clubs have not met at any competitive level since 1976, although United has played in pre-season tournaments at the Amsterdam ArenA. It is a venue that Wayne Rooney will not recall with any fondness after seeing red on his last visit.

United won that 1976 tie 2-1 on aggregate, with Lou Macari and Sammy McIlroy scoring the goals at Old Trafford to take the Reds through. United would lose, heavily, to Juventus in round two.

Ajax versus Manchester United, Europa League, Amsterdam ArenA, 16 February 2012Meanwhile, the modern United squad travels without long-term injured Nemanja Vidić, Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Michael Owen. Anders Lindegaard, whose ankle injury may be worse that originally thought, is also left behind in Manchester, as are Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra, who are rested, and Dimitar Berbatov, who has a minor knock.

“Ryan Giggs and Dimitar Berbatov are injured,” said Ferguson.

“We rested Patrice Evra. It was an emotional weekend for him so I think this is the right thing to do. It’s a strong squad we’ve got here. Ryan got a knock in the first half against Liverpool on the ankle and Dimitar got an injury in training on Sunday.

“It’s better to leave [Berbatov] behind. It’s not a serious injury – he’d be available if I asked him to play – but I thought it better not to risk it, so I left him behind.”

However, Ferguson has brighter injury news more generally, with Tom Cleverley back in the squad following three months out. The 22-year-old midfielder was an unused substitute against Liverpool in the Premier League last weekend, but could make an appearance for the first time since October in Amsterdam. Meanwhile, Ashley Young, Nani, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones all back into the squad to face the Dutch giants.

It all makes for a far stronger squad than some feared – or, indeed, hoped for – travelling the short distance to Amsterdam. Indeed, Ezekiel Fryers and Paul Pogba are the only regular reserve team players in Ferguson’s squad, with United not facing a Premier League fixture at the weekend. Whether Ferguson deploys more reserves in a week’s time, with Norwich City to follow less than three days later, is an open question.

“I’m definitely treating it seriously,” claimed Ferguson on Monday.

“The great thing about Thursday is we don’t have a game next Saturday so I can play my strongest team and will play my strongest team. The thing is to look forward to it. It’s still European football and still a good standard. It’ll be a full house too with a great stadium and a great pitch. They’re not having a great time at the moment but I think, playing United, they will be well motivated for it and always play nice football too.

“Winning any European trophy is significant. Irrespective of those who have won the three trophies before it is important for us, with our own history, to win tournaments all the time. We threw it away in our home game against Basel and were unlucky against Benfica. That caught us short and we suffered for it.

“Now players are coming back I am sure we can combine the Premier League and Europa League so I would certainly try to play my strongest team in each round now.”

Ferguson may bring Young and Nani back for the game, although the 70-year-old is unlikely to make wholesale changes in the away leg from the side that beat Liverpool on Saturday. Mexican striker Javier Hernández could start after spending much of the campaign injured or sat on the bench. Danny Welbeck’s form, in addition to head and angle problems have made for a difficult second campaign at Old Trafford.

Yet, Hernández’ unselfish commitment to the cause ensures that the 23-year-old remains in Ferguson’s thoughts for the Premier and Europa League campaigns despite Welbeck’s rise. Although Rooney is likely to start in Amsterdam, Hernández and Welbeck could be paired together for the return leg next Thursday.

“Both teams have come out of the Champions League and they both have a great history,” said Hernández.

“We have won a lot of European Cups between us, so it will be a very interesting game. We need to get used to the fact we are not in the Champions League this season. And the history of Manchester United is such that it doesn’t matter which competition you are in, we want to win it, no matter who else is in it, or whether it is an important trophy for other teams.”

“It [the Mexican’s second season] has been a little bit frustrating because I have been injured a lot. But there are some things you can’t do anything about. I am happy and I am still enjoying it. It is a privilege to play for Manchester United, whether things are going good or bad, I want to keep that attitude.”

“Danny Welbeck is a brilliant player. He is only young but he went to Sunderland and did great things there. Then he came back here and has been unbelievable. That doesn’t upset me, competition is normal at a club like this. You need to be at your best to help the team. That is the most important thing.”

Meanwhile, Ajax is a club and squad in crisis. On the pitch the team, under Frank de Boer’s management, continues to struggle in the Eredivisie, currently lying sixth and out of contention for a Champions League place next season. In the boardroom more than 18 months of wrangling between Johan Cruyff and the club’s council has concluded, temporarily one suspects, with Louis van Gaal being removed as CEO. The argument surrounds Cruyff’s call to employ former club legends such as Wim Jonk to revitalise Ajax’ one-famed youth academy.

Ajax, based on the youthful ‘total football’ approach, has won all three of Europe’s club trophies –  it is a feat that United cannot match, with the Reds never having emerged victorious in the current tournament. However, the hosts do not boast an enviable record against English opponents in recent yeras. The Amsterdam-based club has not won in seven matches against English opposition, with a record now reading three draws, four defeats since victory against Nottingham Forest in the 1980/81 European Cup semi-final.

Despite the malaise in Amsterdam, the current Ajax generation does offer some talent, with all eyes on Danish teenager Christian Eriksen, along with sought-after defender Jan Vertonghen, and forward Kolbeinn Sigþórsson.

“There’s a lot of attention on the young kid, you know, the Danish boy,” said Ferguson on Monday.

“We’ll see what he’s like and obviously everybody is going to be watching him. Ajax have always been capable of producing great players, that’s the great thing about that football club. When you think back over the years to the likes of Johan Cruyff and Ruud Krol, they were some players.”

United scouts have watched 19-year-old Eriksen this season, but whether the club is interested, let alone can afford, to make a summer bid is as yet untested. After all, while Ferguson believes United is “not far away” from Barcelona’s standard on the pitch, Spanish clubs’ finances are an altogether different sport. United slipped further behind the Spanish giants in Deloitte’s, albeit flawed, ‘money league’ this year. The reduced income on offer in the Europa League will not help close that gap.

Match facts
Ajax versus Manchester United, Europa League, Amsterdam ArenA, Thursday 16 February 2012, 6pm.

Possible teams
Ajax (3-4-3): Vermeer; Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Koppers; Anita, Enoh, De Jong, Eriksen; Sulejmani, Bulykin, Özbiliz. Subs from: Aissati, Lodeiro, Blind, Cillessen, Ebicilio, Lukoki, Van Rhijn, Denswil Veltman, Klaassen, Ligeon.

United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Fabio; Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Young; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Amos, Smalling, Jones, Fryers, Nani, Park, Cleverley, Pogba, Welbeck.

United: WWLWDW

Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Andrea Stefani, Gianluca Cariolato
Additional assistants: Christian Brighi, Gabriele Gava
Fourth official: Andrea Gervasoni

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  1. Sidsidney says

    #MUFC team: DeGea Jones Rio Evans Fabio Nani Cleverley Carrick Young Rooney Chicha
    Subs: Amos Smalling Park Scholes Valencia Pogba Welbeck
    Clev and Carrick together will be interesting. Carrick will sit, Clev will go off and have fun. Big game for him to come back into

  2. JayJ says

    Thats a very strong team, i think Jones is better suited as a full back as he likes to go on runs and get forward. I’d still have him as a box to box midfielder first and foremost. 3-0 United, Nani and Chicarito X2.

  3. Sidsidney says

    We’re playing a different way, the Clev way, where we sit off em, let them play, let them shoot from distance and try and score by playing through em only to be frustrated 99% of the time

  4. han says

    we have invited them on to us by the way we have been fannying around with the ball and possession in the 1st 30 mins
    ffs even ajax supporters didnt have a hope pre kick off but this lack of pace from our mob has really given them a lift

  5. han says

    really careless passing from the likes of nani, young and even evans who has no excuse of match sharpness
    sweet pea looks like he’s eaten a sackful of peas too before the game

  6. han says

    no one looks up for this game
    even rooney looks like he would rather be putting his feet up at home
    no spark or movement up front
    scholes, welbeck and valencia on for me 2nd half
    nani, young, cleverley are too error prone to continue

  7. JayJ says

    We are playing too slow givin them time to get ten men behind the ball. Hard to break down when you aren’t passing well. This half time karaoke is quality!

  8. Sidsidney says

    sheesh said:
    Do you think we should sign him?

    I haven’t seen enough of him

    Judging him on his technique, skill, positioning etc. of today’s game and the England game, he’s good, but there are better players

    I don’t see a big difference between him and Clev

  9. kramer says

    good result, adequate performance. good to see cleverley, nani, jones, fabio and young all getting some playing time.
    cleverley is great to watch, such a quality midfielder.

    eriksen was great after ajax went a goal down i thought, really tried to take charge, and got everybody in his team playing. great confidence and composure for his age. i think he’d be a great buy for united. him, cleverley and pogba would sort our midfield out for about 10 years.

  10. sheesh says

    Valencia could be out of action for 4 weeks. Hamstring injury, according to Fergie.
    This is precisely why I don’t want us stuck in the fucking Europa League much longer.

  11. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    the best bit about the ten minutes i watched is that ashley young was taken off as soon as i started watching

  12. says

    When scholes and gigs finally retire after 12-13 def think Eriksen would be worth signing, although someone might have snapped him up by then. Would much rather have him than anderson!

  13. JayJ says

    Young had a good 2nd half, was working hard for the team and made some chances so deserves his goal. Hernandez wasn’t wank, he’s quiet like always and poaches goals, that is what he is great at. Desperate to see Pogba get a start for the next leg. Anyone notice Morrison hasn’t even been on the bench for West Ham? LOL!

  14. JayJ says

    Young had a good 2nd half, was working hard for the team and made some chances so deserves his goal. Hernandez wasn’t wank, he’s quiet like always and poaches goals, that is what he is great at. Desperate to see Pogba get a start for the next leg. Anyone notice Morrison hasn’t even been on the bench for West Ham?

  15. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Bill said:
    When scholes and gigs finally retire after 12-13 def think Eriksen would be worth signing, although someone might have snapped him up by then. Would much rather have him than anderson!

    Fuck Erikson… Gotze is the one we should save our pennies for.

  16. says

    Gotze – wake up son – its the post Glazer united we are talking about. Gotze will be the next young German playmaker going to Madrid. We might be able to afford Eriksen.

    • says

      Bill – Goetze at €40m is way out of our league. Interesting story about Eriksen in Red Issue a few months back (corroborated by what I’d been told) that Ajax is under the assumption United won’t be bidding because the price will be too high for us. Circa €20m at the moment. It’ll rise a fair bit if Eriksen has a blinder at Euro 2012.

  17. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    we could get agbonlahor for much less

    whos to say he couldnt do just as good a job, apart from all sensible people

    but the important thing is he would cost less

  18. says

    We definitely need quality cover in midfield and options, Eriksen looks brilliant but we’re really not going to bid anything like that

    Anderson, I am sad to now say, doesn’t look like coming good, unless he storms back from injury and links up with Cleverley like they did at the beginning of the season AND both stay fit for 70% of the season.


    Agbonlahor and / or Delph it is then!?

  19. says

    Thanks Ed – I thought as much. Ajax normally don’t ask stupid money, once the price goes past 20 mill sterling we can forget it! And it will rise in the summer as you say. Not sure who we will be buying if anyone!

  20. 19 and Counting says

    Has anyone seen Gotze play? This kid is still 20 but he’s already class and looks like he’s 26. Dortmund won’t sell him to Bayern and he’s said he wants to play in Spain some day, but I still think we could make an offer and see what happens. This guy should be our priority signing – yeah, he would cost 35m but we have needed a quality central MF for several years now and he would be that BIG signing we’ve needed.

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