Date: 22nd February 2012 at 10:53pm
Written by:

Jesper Olsen - One of many United / Ajax connections.

United return to action on Thursday night, after a week off playing activities, hosting Ajax Amsterdam in the return leg of the Europa League first knockout stage, protecting a two goal lead.

Drawing the Dutch champions was a blessing for United fans, many of whom had treat the competition with contempt after failing to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League.  A big draw, with a fantastic away trip for the match-going reds, meant that the excitement had built up in the way it should do, as we endeavour to win the only competition that has eluded us in oour 134 year history.

Reds should embrace the Europa League, and hope we can complete the set on the honours list.

Team news:

It’s been reported that Wayne Rooney will miss the game, after Ferguson ruled him out due to a “really bad throat”, which he was suffering from in the opening leg.

Ferguson also said that Nani, Ashley Young, Javier Hernandez, Tom Cleverley, Chris and Phil Jones are in need of a game, and one player who could join them on the team sheet is Paul Pogba.

The young Frenchman has made a few cameo appearences for the club this term, and impressed after coming off the bench against Stoke City at Old Trafford on 31st January.  With the boss keen to mix the fringe players with some experience, he could get the nod to start in his one as United look to make the last 16, where they’ll face either Lokomotiv Moscow or Athletic Bilbao if they see off Ajax.

Sir Alex should pick a side that’ll comfortably see United through, against a recently below par and under-performing Ajax side.

Former Ajax star Luis , the Liverpool forward, is unlikely to be at Old Trafford to cheer on his former Ajax team-mates, despite suggestions he planned to attend the game.   The Uruguay international, who later issued an apology for his actions, has been advised to stay away.

They’ve played for both sides:

United have a recent history of players who’ve played for both sides.  Jesper Olsen signed for United in 84 from Ajax, where he played alongside Dutch international Johan Cruyff.  Olsen was the player involved in the famous Cruyff , in which he stepped up to the spot, slipped the ball to the left where Olsen ran forward, squared the ball back to Cruyff, who popped the ball in to the net.

Arnold Muhren, another Ron Atkinson signing, left United for a second spell at Ajax in the summer of 1985. He’d already played for them between 1971 and 1974, scoring 30 goals in 161 league games during both spells.

More recently, Edwin Van der Sar was the United/Ajax connection – winning the Champions League with both clubs. He won it with United in 2008 (making the winning penalty save from Nicolas Anelka in the shoot out), and with Ajax in 1995.

Frank Stapleton was given a free by Alex Ferguson in the summer on 1987, and opted to sign for the Amsterdam outfit.  He only played three league games for Ajax, scoring no goals, and eventually made his way back to Derby County later that year.

Did you know…

Prior to this season, the teams had met once before in UEFA competition, Tommy Docherty’s United prevailing 2-1 on aggregate against Tomislav Ivić’s Ajax in the 1976/77 UEFA Cup first round. Ruud Krol scored the only goal in Amsterdam, but Lou Macari and Sammy McIlroy turned the tie around at Old Trafford. (Courtesy of UEFA)

So, United look to progress to the quarter finals of the Europa League – a competition that no-one gave consideration to at the beginning of the season.  But as the fans sing out Thursday Night, Channel Five” there’s a feeling of non-pressurised-to-win enjoyment here…so lets enjoy it, and lets complete the set.

Wherever you’re watching it- Old Trafford or on Channel Five, enjoy the game.

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