Goals from Ashley Young and Javier Hernandez led Manchester United to a fine victory in Amsterdam over Ajax and one foot seemingly in the Europa League last 16 round ahead of next week’s return leg back at Old Trafford.
Frank De Boer’s Ajax side were a tough nut to crack though and enjoyed good spells on the ball for the opening hour of the game before Young scored and could have taken the lead but for an outstanding save from David De Gea which kept out a Siem de Jong drive from 25 yards.
Both sides appeared to cancel each other out for the first 20 minutes, making cautious steps into the game, getting their bearings on the opposition and the occasion itself. Wayne Rooney had United’s first effort of the game seeing a chip easily saved by Ajax’s goalkeeper Kenneth Vermer.
It was a relatively straight-forward save from the keeper who had to be quick of his line to keep out Hernandez moments later when Rooney played his strike partner in just inside the area, with the keeper doing well to gather the ball at his feet.
Midway though the half, De Gea produced a stunning save to keep out de Jong’s powerful strike from 25 yards. It was another piece of magic by the Spaniard whose confidence must be high at the moment following high-profile saves against Chelsea and Liverpool in his last two outings for the club.
Ajax were pressing to take the lead before half-time. Russian forward Dmitri Bulykin headed over before highly-rated Danish midfielder Christian Ericksen forced De Gea into a straight-forward save before Rio Ferdinand escaped a penalty-appeal after tangling with Miralem Sulejmani seconds before the break.
Vermeer was force into action immediately after the restart. After keeping out efforts from Nani and Hernandez the keeper then had to be at his best to deny his own team-mate Toby Alderweireld’s header from creeping in.
On the hour-mark, Vermeer’s luck ran out when Nani picked out Ashley Young with a cross at the back post, who coolly decided against shooting first-time to get better control on the ball before striking a low shot into the net past three defenders on the line.
It was Young’s first goal since his late equaliser against Basel in the Champions League back in September and one that given his injury woes over the last couple of months was a sweet moment for him, that will hopefully get his season back on-form.
Ajax to their credit battled on but Young’s goal sucked the life out of them and De Gea was only tested once afterwards from a straight-forward effort from Eriksen who looked positive throughout, showing just why he is so highly-rated.
United doubled the lead five minutes from time when Antonio Valencia on from the bench burst clear. The Ecuadorian went down under a hefty challenge from Ajax’s captain Jan Vertonghen but the ball broke to Hernandez who played a one-two with Rooney before slotting the ball in under Vermeer.
Valencia who had only been on for 10 minutes was replaced immediately after the goal by Danny Welbeck. It was only the sour moment of a fine away win for United, one that should set the standard for a win in Europe.
United: De Gea, Fabio, Ferdinand, Evans, Jones, Young (Valencia (Welbeck)) Cleverley (Scholes), Carrick, Nani, Rooney, Hernandez.
Javier Hernandez again showed why he is regarded as one of Europe’s most deadly strikers. Many fans would not have been surprised had Sir Alex Ferguson partnered Wayne Rooney up front with Danny Welbeck but Hernandez was a threat on and off the ball and but for Ajax’s in-form keeper Vermeer could have scored a hat-trick.
By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87