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Europa League final: Ajax 0-2 Manchester United

Jose Mourinho's Manchester United win the Europa League

Manchester United 2-0 Ajax
Referee: Damir Skomina
Venue: Friends Arena
Attendance: 46,961
Paul Pogba 18'
Henrikh Mkhitaryan 48'

Manchester United made their manager and supporters proud by winning the Europa League 2017 tournament, adding to the trophies claimed in their history, and thereby earning a spot in next season’s prestigious Champions League. The victory came only two days after the trauma and horror in Manchester. "We play for England, we play for Manchester and we play for them, the people who died," said Paul Pogba post match. “We know things like this are very sad all over the world, not only in Manchester but also in Paris. We won for them. We played for the country. We won for them. We played for them, the people who died.”

“Manchester” was the chant throughout and at the end from the Man United fans who traveled to Friends Arena in Sweden as their team took control of the match from the start in a tactically textbook Mourinho victory. Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho won his 12th final from the 14 finals he has contested. Manchester United is back in the Champions League, skipping the qualifying matches and going straight into the group stages, as Mourinho became the first manager to win the Champions League and the Europa League twice. He has won all four finals in European competition that he has contested.

Mourinho's son ran onto the pitch and rugby tackled his father to the ground at the final whistle. Mourinho celebrated holding up four fingers for the four trophies he has won in European competition and then tumbled to the turf as his son Jose Junior jumped into his arms. Next with arms outstretched before the United fans, Jose went up first to kiss the freshly engraved Europa League trophy as he released his joy after the pressure he was under in his first season at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho was hired to win for and with United, who join Bayern Munich, Juventus, Ajax, and Chelsea as the only clubs to win all three major European trophies.

The Europa League campaign in the 2017 season was composed of 15 matches that were played in eight cities., United traveled more than 15,000 air miles from Istanbul to Rostov-on-Don in southerly Russia via Odessa on the north-western shore of the Black Sea to Stockholm in addition to playing in their England Premier League season matches and various cup competitions. The Europa League final was held in Sweden in the capital city of Stockholm, a city recovering from its own recent terrorist atrocity. Man United’s match rivals, Ajax, are a young side who also has a rich history. Ajax fielded the youngest team ever to start a European final with an average age of fewer than 23 years.

Mourinho made a post-match statement that “poets don’t win many trophies”. The pronouncement of Ajax coach Peter Bosz was that the clash was “boring” after his team was so powerfully stifled. “Man United only played long balls,” Bosz added. At the back, Daley Blind and Chris Smalling dominated Ajax’s dangerous young striker Kasper Dolberg. In midfield Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera went man-to-man and thereby shackled Ajax’s Lasse Schöne and Hakim Ziyech. Marcus Rashford’s performance unsettled the Ajax defense. Mourinho had obviously studied his opponents and knew exactly what Ajax would do and planned to prey on their weakness, their risk-taking, and their inexperience. Mourinho gave each of his players detailed, disciplined jobs and they had a game plan to follow.

Manchester’s opening came at eighteen minutes when Marouane Fellaini laid the ball off to Paul Pogba and while the Ajax defenders were slow to close down there was little threat from his shot, just outside the area, but the ball ricocheted up off Davidson Sánchez’s shin to wrong-foot André Onana and spin into the net as the goalkeeper desperately tried to reach out a hand but was unable to stop it from going into the net.  Paul Pogba suffered his own personal tragedy with the recent death of his father, pointed to the heavens in celebration.

United scored again early in the second half, with a goal by Henrikh Mkhitaryan who endured a miserable opening first half. Smalling met Juan Mata’s corner and the defender sent his header down to the ground with the ball bouncing up for Mkhitaryan, inside the six-yard box, to hook it over his shoulder and high into the net. Henrikh Mkhitaryan celebrated with passion after scoring the second goal. Ajax tried their best but was outplayed and outsmarted. United defense was too strong to go past. In their seventh European final, the Reds won for the fifth time with the official man of the match Ander Herrera dedicating the win to the victims of the bombing while also speaking of his relief at winning for United and Mourinho for so many reasons. “Thank you to my team-mates because without them I could not have scored so many goals,” says Henrikh Mkhitaryan. “Everyone said I was going to score in the final and I did thanks to my team-mates. Now we are playing in the Champions League next year.”

“We knew we were going to play Europa League,” said Paul Pogba. “Our goal was to win. We are very proud. Nobody can talk. They say we have a bad season but we have three trophies. The start was very important. We scored early. We started to play backward. We scored the second goal with Miki and we controlled the game.” To date, Mourinho has won an impressive four European trophies and is considered one of the greatest football coaches of all time. After the victory, Manchester United captain and England Wayne Rooney who came on late in the match, lifted the trophy for the Reds and took it towards the fans.

Before the match, Mourinho talked about the tragedy in Manchester and the terrible events that occurred at the Manchester Arena on Monday evening. "We are all very sad about the tragic events last night; we cannot take out of our minds and our hearts the victims and their families,” said Mourinho.."We have a job to do and we will fly to Sweden to do that job.  It is a pity we cannot fly with the happiness that we always have before a big game. I know, even during my short time here, that the people of Manchester will pull together as one."

“We tried our best to focus on the game. It is our job. We come here to do that job the best we can and I think we are ready for it. Not with the same happiness, not with the happiness that we bring with us normally, but from a professional point of view, we are ready. I don’t know what Ajax are going to do. I don’t know if they will be able to do what they want to do. We are going to give absolutely everything we have to give,” said Mourinho in his pre-match interview. “Bailly is suspended. It was a choice between Smalling and Jones. I was pushed to decide Chris because he recovered before Jones and he has one week in advance in relation to Jones. Mata is a position where we have alternatives. We have Martial, we have Lingard. Today it is important to start with experience and a brain and later to go with pace and freshness. One season cannot depend on one game but the reality is if we win tonight we get a very important trophy and a Champions League spot.”

Europa League Final 2017 Squads

Ajax
Onana; Riedewald, De Ligt, Sanchez, Veltman; Ziyech, Schone, Klaassen; Younes, Dolberg, Traore. Subs: Boer, Tete, Westermann, De Jong, Van der Beek, Kluivert, Neres.

Manchester United
Romero; Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Darmian; Herrera, Fellaini; Mata, Pogba, Mkhitaryan; Rashford. Subs: De Gea, Fosu-Mensah, Lingard, Carrick, Jones, Martial, Rooney.

Referee: Damir Skomina.

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