After a 4-1 win in the first leg, Ajax is back in a European final. It’s the Dutch club’s first appearance in a European final since the club won the Champions League in 1996. The key to their success has been youth, as Ajax boast one of the world’s youngest elite clubs. The star is Bertrand Traore, a 21-year old striker on loan from Chelsea.
Traore is the household name, but some of these Ajax players should be known soon enough. In the first leg against Lyon, the defense of Ajax had an average age of under 20 years old. The youngest is 17-year old Matthijs de Ligt. In March, de Ligt became the youngest Dutch player to ever start a competitive match when then-manager Danny Blind started him in a World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria.
On the other side of the bracket is Manchester United, a global powerhouse looking to reclaim it’s seat amongst world powers. After the exit of Sir Alex Ferguson following the 2013 season, United has been unable to climb higher than fourth in the English table. Where they’ve really struggled is European play, winning just one Champions League knockout fixture since 2011.
United brought in major star power in the offseason, and the results have positive. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has made the most visible improvements, but a knee injury in the quarterfinals put him on the shelf for the rest of 2017. Paul Pogba is still the anchor in the middle, but the biggest signing of the offseason was probably new manager Jose Mourinho. The former Chelsea and Real Madrid manager has brought new confidence to the club, who look headed for Champions League play next season regardless of the outcome in Stockholm.
United outlasted Celta Vigo in the semifinal, and are in pursuit of a first-ever Europa League title.
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