UEFA Europa League: Tactical Analysis
Manchester United will face Ajax in the Europa League final in Stockholm on Wednesday - but how will the clubs approach the game tactically?
Ajax boss Peter Bosz will be looking to win his first silverware at the club since taking charge last May and finishing the season a point behind champions Feyenoord on the last day of the Eredivisie campaign.
Jose Mourinho will be banking on a win after making the Europa League his priority and effectively conceding fifth place and any chance of a top-four finish in the Premier League.
But how do the tactics of both clubs compare?
Ajax have scored 24 goals in14 games during this season's Europa League campaign - one more than Manchester United.
The Dutch side typically play a 4-3-3 formation with a front three of Kasper Dolberg, Chelsea loanee Bertrand Traore and Amin Younes.
The trio have outscored United's attacking players in the competition, with Dolberg hitting six goals and the flank forwards scoring four a piece.
For Man United, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have both netted five, but the latter will miss the final in Stockholm after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in April.
The absence of Ibrahimovic may initiate a departure from Jose Mourinho's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, to a 4-3-3 with Marcus Rashford likely to enter the fray in an unchanged set-up - as Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata or Jesse Lingard offer additional options up front.
Style of play
Both clubs have statistically dominated games but United are more likely to win the possession battle, averaging nearly 60 per cent in the competition compared to 55 per cent for Ajax.
Ajax will need to press and negotiate the likes of Ander Herrera and Pogba if they wish to win the possession battle, with United naturally playing further forward than their opponents.
Ajax apply a more direct, patient attack on the ground, making 769 passes into the final third compared to United's 977.
United may play a more direct game with Ibrahimovic sidelined, but full-backs Daley Blind and Valencia, along with playmaker Juan Mata and forward Anthony Martial, can provide angled precision from the flanks.
Ajax centre-backs Viergever and Sanchez surpass United's counterparts for defensive stats - blocks, duels won, headed clearances, tackles, clearances and interceptions - while 17-year-old backup Matthijs de Ligt also provides good cover.
Sanchez, who is 6’2 is the primary defender for clearing aerial threats and will look to clear any danger posed by Pogba, Fellaini or Chris Smalling.
Jose Mourinho has typically started keeper Sergio Romero ahead of David de Gea in the Europa League, and the Argentine has recorded a superior save percentage of 88% compared to the 72% of Ajax stopper Andre Onana.
Despite the defensive robustness of Ajax, the Amsterdam club have still conceded 15 goals during their 14 Europa League outings - nearly twice as many as United's eight.
In addition to conceding more goals, Ajax are also more error-prone, making 10 mistakes leading to shots or goals compared to Man United's four.
Ajax also commit more fouls, essentially by their three forwards attempting to gain possession - although attacker Younes also leads the side for winning duels.
United's main weakness appears to be missing big chances and being caught offside.
Stockholm here come
Mourinho has rested players and sacrificed United's chance of finishing in the top four of the Premier League to concentrate on Champions League qualification by sneaking in a Europa League triumph.
The Portuguese tactician has defended making the competition his priority and rebuked the claims of negative tactics - but defeat in Stockholm would unleash another level of criticism, especially after United’s expenditure last summer.