Manchester United will play host to Ajax tomorrow in the second leg of our Europa League tie with the Dutch outfit. We came back from the Amsterdam Arena with a professional 2-0 victory and with two away goals under our belt, confidence of progression will be high.
Wayne Rooney has been ruled out of the tie with a throat infection and that will be a blow to us. Many times this season we have been toothless upfront without the attacking incisiveness of Rooney in the middle third. SAF has confirmed Berbatov is fit and that he intends to give Hernandez game time, so it is most likely that he will keep Welbeck fresh for the weekend to hopefully partner a fit Rooney. Hopefully Berbatov can conjure up some magic with his typical, gentleman-like ease that makes him so easy to watch.
With the onus on a clean sheet tomorrow, the pressure performances will be on the defence. SAF rested Evra for the fixture in Holland and with the scoreline being what it is, I think he will save his captain for Norwich on Sunday. I also can’t see Rio playing tomorrow as SAF would prefer to have him fit for the game at Norwich on Sunday, so there is a possibility that Jones, Smalling and Fabio will all be given game time. SAF has confirmed that Jones and Smalling are both in line to make a start and it is a welcome return for our English youngsters. Phil has been out since twisting his ankle at Arsenal and we have missed the energy the 20-year-old brings to the team. Although, it should be duly noted that Rafael has definitely put in some assured performances in his absence and showed great progression since last season.
As for the midfield, my biggest hope is that Cleverley manages to get a full 90 minutes under his belt. He spoke at the pre-match conference:
“It’s good to be back. It’s massively frustrating to be out for that length of time but I’m back now I’m fresh, I’m 100 percent and looking forward to the end of the season.”
His 60 minute performance at the Amsterdam Arena was fantastic, completing 45/46 passes (97%) as well as 16/16 (100%) passes in the final third. United have had to rely heavily on the returning Scholes for attacking flair and the sooner Cleverley returns to the starting line-up the better. Anderson has also returned to training with the first team, so we are getting close to a fully fit squad just at the right time.
Hopes that Paul Pogba will get some minutes remain intact but SAF confirmed that it would “depend on the rest of the team”. With Pogba out of contract in the summer, it is an imperative of the club to show that he is in the future plans of where this club wants to go and with Juventus reportedly sniffing at his heels, he may see an exit as his best career option if he doesn’t get his chances toward the end of this season. The longer we stay in the Europa League, the higher that chance will be as the Premier League may well be deemed to important to give Pogba his opportunities.
On the opposite hand of United’s fruitful youth, Ryan Giggs has the possibility of making his 900th United appearance tomorrow. No superlative can encapture just what Ryan means to this club. I think Ryan will continue to be a player right up until SAF decides to call it a day, so he will be around for a good few years yet. Considering he is the best crosser we still have at this club, the longer he plays the better. What an emotional day that will be when Giggs and Ferguson both leave United.
As I posted yesterday, Suarez is rumoured to be looking to attend this match. For the sake of letting bygones be bygones, I hope the club has moved swiftly to block any such event happening. Distractions are unnecessary at an Old Trafford where complacency has been rife and only one clean sheet has been kept in European football this campaign.
Prediction. Ajax have the attacking, creative intent that will undoubtedly carve out chances. However, if United can get on the scoresheet first, the game will be all but over. SAF will place emphasis on the importance of the clean-sheet and with Berbatov likely to start, we are likely to play a slower and narrower game. I think it will be a low scoring affair, possibly 1-0 to us. We will not want to throw away the possibility of a potential European Cup final against City, would we?