As May 24th approaches Manchester United fans the world over will be in a state of anxious excitement. The most important game of the season beckons and so does potential European glory. The stakes are very clear, win and we get to share a table with Europe’s big boys in next season’s Champions League. A loss however would change the entire mood around Old Trafford and the entire perception of United’s season.
United’s Premier League campaign has fizzled out into anti-climactic mediocrity. It’s hard to believe that the Red Devils have lost the same amount of games as champions Chelsea, it’s been a season of ‘what if’ as far as the league is concerned and ultimately United’s long string of draws has further extended the club’s season long love affair with sixth place.
It’s been a dramatic road to Stockholm for Mourinho’s men. It didn’t start well when the side stumbled in Rotterdam in a narrow defeat to Feyenoord, United soon got back to winning ways though. The rest of the group stage saw United secure wins over Feyenoord and Fenerbahce at Old Trafford as well a Henrikh Mkhitaryan inspired double over Zorya. Another loss in Turkey meant United would finish the group in second place.
The round of 32 was a much simpler affair. St. Ettiene were dispatched by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s hat-trick at Old Trafford, the Swede had made a habit of scoring important goals and put United in a comfortable position heading into the return leg. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been United’s best player in Europe this season and his solitary first half strike in France was enough to see United cruise into the last 16 without having conceded a goal to the French outfit.
The round of sixteen saw Mourinho’s men travel to Russia to meet FC Rostov. Mkhitaryan struck once again in the first leg but a late equalizer meant the only advantage United held halfway through the tie was an away goal. The second leg performance was uncertain and a single Juan Mata goal meant that United went into the quarter finals with a 2 – 1 aggregate win.
United’s performances on the European stage had become more shaky and unconvincing. Belgian side Anderlecht provided tough competition in the two-legged quarter final. Another Henrikh Mkhitaryan goal was cancelled out by a late equalizer in Belgium. United were nervous in the second leg and the game went into extra-time, it seemed penalties were due until Marcus Rashford stepped up in Zlatan’s absence with a late winner.
Another 2 – 1 aggregate win for United and Celta Vigo awaited in the semi’s. A brilliant Marcus Rashford free-kick proved to be the difference in the Vigo. Celta put in a brave performance at Old Trafford and United had to scramble for a draw and another narrow win over the two legs.
Now in little over 24 hours United will face Ajax in a game of crucial importance. The task is complicated, United will have to find a way to deal the mercurial Ajax frontline without Eric Bailly- arguably their best defender. One thing is for sure though, the fate of the season rests upon the final. Win and it’s been a terrific season. Lose ?