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Ajax v Manchester United Preview: A Europa League Adventure Begins!

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At the start of the season Manchester United would have been expecting to have just played their first leg of a Last 16 tie in the Champions League this week. As we know that hasn’t happened and tonight United face a trip to Amsterdam to face Dutch giants Ajax in the Europa League round of 32.

Ajax also dropped down into the Europa League from the Champions League after finishing third in their group behind Real Madrid and Lyon, who controversially overcame a 7-goal deficit on the final match day to go through ahead of Frank De Boer’s side.

Despite the proud European traditions of both clubs, United have only ever played Ajax twice in competitive matches back in the first round of the 1976 UEFA Cup when Tommy Docherty’s United were able to overturn a 1-0 loss in Amsterdam in the first leg with a 2-0 win at Old Trafford thanks to goals from Lou Macari and Sammy McIllroy.

United have competed in the Dutch side’s traditional pre-season Amsterdam Tournament on four occasions, winning it in 2006 when Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes were memorably sent-off against FC Porto, with both players receiving 3-match ban’s which disrupted the club’s line-up at the start of the 2006/07 season.

Tonight though gives a chance for United to banish aside the memories of exiting the Champions League with the target of winning a competition that neither the club or Sir Alex Ferguson are yet in their illustrious histories to win.

Rio Ferdinand v Dmitri Bulykin

Russian forward Bulykin it’s fair to say up until last season was thought of solely as a journey-man striker. However 22 goals last season on loan at Eredivise strugglers Ado Den Haag from Belgian giants Anderlecht earned him a big-money move to Ajax.

Whilst he is by no means a clinical finisher, Bulykin’s work-rate is good and he is good at bringing others into play. Ferdinand will have to be wary of him but should have the know-how to deal with the Russian who isn’t the quickest.

Paul Scholes v Christian Eriksen

In a weird way this evening, United’s fans will be hoping to see Ajax’s highly-talented midfielder Eriksen sparkle. After all, the little Dane has been heavily with a move to Old Trafford so it’s only natural fans would want to see him at his best.

Eriksen has been compared to Scholes for his creativity and it shall be interesting to see how United target him. He won’t be scared of getting challenged and is nifty with his feet. Scholes will have to draw on all his experience this evening.

Danny Welbeck v Jan Vertonghen

He didn’t score in United’s win at home to Liverpool at the weekend but Welbeck led the line well, terrorising Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel – two excellent centre-halves – showing again why many believe he has the potential to be a United great.

Ajax’s rugged captain Vertonghen will have the duty of trying to stop him tonight. The Belgian is a fine defender and despite not being in the best of form will be confident of his chances of keeping Welbeck quiet, despite it being a task far from easy to achieve.

In terms of a prediction for the game, as stated earlier on in a on in a predictions article, I can see United grabbing a 1-1 draw in the Dutch capital, which will probably be a result that will see both teams go home happy ahead of next week’s second leg.

United will fancy beating Ajax back at Old Trafford, but after poor away performances in Europe this season, will know that they cannot ill-afford to give De Boer’s talented group of young individuals any hope to attack and play to their strenghts.

By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87