Ajax look capable of a Europa League final upset but a corner bet is our tipster Andy Schooler's biggest fancy.
Recommended bets: Europa League final
Ajax v Manchester United (1945 BST, BT Sport 2)
Manchester United are odds-on across the board to win Wednesday’s Europa League final in 90 minutes but the market does not appear be giving enough respect to their Dutch opponents.
Ajax’s current generation is very much engrained with the club’s long-standing tradition of attacking, attractive football, largely played on the deck in a 4-3-3 formation.
Anyone who saw their home demolitions of Lyon and Schalke in the two previous rounds cannot fail to have been impressed – both games could easily have been won by wider margins – and their energetic approach certainly has the potential to cause United problems.
Their starting XI is set to have an average age of just 22 but these players still have plenty of experience under their belts. That said, this is the first final at this level for them – one which comes 22 years to the day since the club’s previous European triumph (over Milan in the Champions League).
Concerns over Ajax’s chances centre around their defensive record which can be summed up by a couple of key facts.
They have conceded almost twice the number of goals in this competition this season than United (15 to eight), while they have managed to keep just two clean sheets in their last 12 games.
United will look to exploit that deficiency – the bookies clearly feel they can – but putting teams away has been their issue all season with not enough goals in the team. Despite his social-media teasing, Zlatan Ibrahimovic surely won’t be on the field in Stockholm and that will leave much resting on the shoulders of Marcus Rashford.
The England youngster’s pace is a real asset for United and it will be no surprise if Jose Mourinho, ever the pragmatist, sets his side up to thwart Ajax’s forward strength and look to hit them on the break where they have been shown to be vulnerable.
A repeat of their semi-final effort in Vigo may be good enough to get the job done. United were highly professional that night and restricted the hosts extremely well. Yet the second leg of that tie summed up their unreliability this season and they can consider themselves fortunate to have reached the final after a horror miss by the visitors in the last minute of that tie which would have put United out.
They will also be missing one of their better players this season, Eric Bailly, due to suspension and since that semi-final Mourinho’s approach to virtually everything has only served to heap more pressure on his remaining players.
All the eggs were placed in the Europa League basket as United effectively threw in the towel in the chase for a top-four Premier League finish.
All the focus in his media duties has been on this game too. Everyone is fully aware that Champions League football next season – surely a minimum for Mourinho at the start of his tenure – now rests on this contest.
In days gone by I wouldn’t have been concerned by that. Roy Keane’s approach would have been ‘pressure, what pressure?’ but with the current crop I’m not so sure.
To me, it just seems like the prices are weighted too heavily in United’s favour and at anything north of 7/2, Ajax look worth a nibble.
However, the best bet on the night looks to be in the sub-markets where there’s a real chance to take advantage of Ajax’s attacking prowess.
Specifically it’s the corner market I’m turning to where Ajax are offered at 15/8 (BetVictor) to have more than United.
That looks big indeed.
Of the two sides, Ajax are clearly the one with the width and the tendency to get to the byline where crosses can be blocked or headed out for corners.
Amin Younes does this very well down the left, ably assisted by Hakim Ziyech. On the opposing flank, Bertrand Traore will cause problems, as will goalscoring captain Davy Klaasen.
In contrast, there’s little natural width in the current United side.
Stats work in the bet’s favour too.
Ajax have had more corners than their opponents in nine of their last 12 games, including three of their four previous Europa games against Lyon and Schalke. Interestingly they were 11-4 corner winners in the first leg against the Germans (a game they dominated) but also ‘won’ 10-2 in the reverse fixture in which they were outplayed for long periods.
United’s corner stats show they’ve failed to match their opponents’ tally in seven of their last 12 matches. They include away to Manchester City where they set out to contain, while their blanket approach to Liverpool away earlier in the campaign also resulted in them losing the corner count.
While I’m not expecting them to be so negative in this one, I still feel these games offer some relevance given the way United could set up here.
The biggest danger to the bet could come from Rashford’s pace – there may need to be interventions from defenders and keeper if United are able to play incisive passes to him - but I’m still more than happy to support the Dutch in this market at such a price.
Prediction: Ajax 2-1 Man Utd
Ajax have lifted the trophy in six of their last eight major European finals whilst the Red Devils have won four of their six; those two defeats coming in the most recent appearances however (2008/09 & 2010/11 Champions League finals versus Barcelona).
Manchester United have reached the final of the Europa League/UEFA Cup for the first time in their history.
The Red Devils have gone 10 matches unbeaten in this competition (W7 D3); conceding just four goals in that time.
This game will be the 56th official game for Ajax this season, a new club record for the Amsterdam side.
Ajax have lost two of their last three Europa League outings; letting in seven goals across that period.
Just two of the last 16 UEFA Cup/Europa League finals have been decided by a penalty shootout (Sevilla beating Espanyol on penalties in the 2006/07 edition and then doing the same to Benfica in the 2013/14 campaign); 10 have been won in 90 minutes with a further four being decided in extra time.
There have been nine goals scored across the last two Europa League finals (an average of 4.5 per game).
José Mourinho has won all six meetings with Ajax as a manager; those previous matches have all come in the Champions League with Real Madrid.
Marcus Rashford has been directly involved in each of Manchester United's last four goals in the Europa League (two goals & two assists).
No player has recorded more shots on target this season in this competition than Bertrand Traoré (16); only Zenit’s Giuliano (14) has been directly involved in more goals this term than Traoré (8 – four goals and four assists).
Posted at 1535 BST on 23/05/17.