UEFA Europa League

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UEFA Europa League Final preview: Manchester United vs. Ajax

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Jose Mourinho’s big European gamble takes center stage on Wednesday in Sweden, when Manchester United attempts to topple young Ajax in the UEFA Europa League Final.

United’s chances for UEFA Champions League qualification, a magnificent opportunity, are overshadowed by the pall cast over Manchester by sinister terrorist attacks at a pop concert that killed and injured many on Monday night.

Alas, there’s soccer to be played, and Mourinho is looking to make it a trio of shiny items in his first year on the job. United beat Leicester City for the Community Shield, then topped Southampton in the EFL Cup Final en route to Sweden.

United’s well-documented dearth of healthy defenders will march out one more time on Wednesday, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones tasked with manning the center of the back line. Expect Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian out wide.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Despite the injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mourinho’s attack is going to give Ajax fits. Marcus Rashford has been next level for most of the second half of the season, and United will also likely feature Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba atop Ander Herrera.

If someone is going to break United down, it could be midfield wizards Davy Klaassen and Lasse Schone. The creative middle men have a variety of options to find with the ball, including on-loan Chelsea man Bertrand Traore and Danish teenager Kasper Dolberg.

But how will they deal with United’s attack? Sure Ajax has stopped Lyon, Schalke, Copenhagen, and Legia Warsaw, but United and Mourinho? That’s another challenge for Peter Bosz and his men.

Ajax won the 1992 UEFA Cup, and this is United’s first ever trip to this particular final. The Red Devils are heavy favorites, and we expect United to prevail. Don’t sleep on Juan Mata heroics. Call it 3-1.

Man United honor attack victims ahead of Europa League final

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Manchester United’s players and coaching staff held a minute’s silence ahead of training on Tuesday at their Carrington base in Manchester.

Following the terrorist attack in Manchester late on Monday where a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured 59 at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, United will not hold a press conference and other media activities on Tuesday ahead of the Europa League final in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Europa League final against Ajax on Wednesday will still go ahead as planned at the Friends Arena in nearby Solna, with UEFA releasing a statement reassuring fans that there was no security threat in the Swedish capital.

“UEFA is shocked by last night’s attack in Manchester. Our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those affected. There is currently no specific intelligence which might suggest that any of the UEFA Europa League final activities in Stockholm may be the target of attacks.

“UEFA has been closely working with local authorities and the Swedish FA for many months and the terrorist risk had been taken into account since the very beginning of the project. Furthermore, a number of additional security measures were implemented following the attacks in Stockholm last April. Due to the tight security arrangements, UEFA urges fans to arrive at the stadium as early as possible, as detailed checks will be made at the entrances, resulting in potential delays in accessing the stadium.”

United released the following statement early on Tuesday morning following the attack, while many of their players and key figures in the soccer world have been sharing their condolences on social media.

Everyone at Manchester United is deeply shocked by last night’s terrible events at the Manchester Arena. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected, including our supporters, club staff and members of our community such as the children from our Manchester United Foundation partner schools who were attending the concert at the Arena. Club staff are ready to help the police and other emergency services in any way that may be required at this challenging time for our city.

Mourinho on Romero’s day, Man Utd’s GKs: “We’re in safe gloves”

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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho is raving about Sergio Romero and his goalkeepers after the backstop prodded his side to a 0-0 draw against Southampton at St. Mary’s on Wednesday.

He also issued good news on Marouane Fellaini, who left the match with a leg injury.

“It’s not a tear, and his experience gives us confidence. But he had a little bad feeling.”

[ RECAP: Saints 0-0 Man Utd ]

As for Romero, who stopped a penalty and made some fantastic flying parries, Mourinho said the goalkeeper had a “more than very good game” against Saints. He lobbied hard for Romero, David De Gea, and third-string keeper Joel Pereira:

“He’s Argentina national goalkeeper and (we have) Spanish national team goalkeeper. Two of the best national teams in the world with good traditions of goalkeepers in both countries. These two guys are phenomenal and the Portuguese kid is a very good goalkeeper. So in relation to that we are in safe gloves.”

Oh, that witty man.

Mourinho also said the season’s success does not hinge on Wednesday’s UEFA Europa League Final against Ajax because one unlucky break could happen, and shouldn’t be allowed to ruin a season.

He’s right, but he’s also gambled on the UEL over the Premier League as a route to the Champions League. I think it’s the right risk, but many who agree with that will change their minds if Ajax finds a way past the Red Devils in Sweden.

Mourinho says focusing on Europa not a gamble after Spurs loss

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Tottenham Hotspur got it done, winning the final match at White Hart Lane and clinching the second place spot in the Premier League for the 2016-17 season.

Credit for that, but Spurs were somewhat aided by the visitors’ lineup choice, as Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho opted to play his top side in Thursday’s UEFA Europa League semifinal.

The Red Devils are chasing qualification for the UEFA Champions League through a UEL title, and essentially sacrificed the chance to finish Top Four in order to focus on the tournament.

[ RECAP: Spurs 2-1 Man Utd ]

United left Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ander Herrera, and Marcus Rashford on the bench to start, and did not have Paul Pogba available following a reported death in the family. Mourinho said the focus on Europa was calculated, not a risk, and defies those who say otherwise. From the BBC:

“When people say we gambled by going to Europa League, we didn’t gamble. You can’t play two big competitions with 15 players. It was compulsory. The ones that needed to play 90 minutes got to play. We got no injuries. At the moment, the Premier League matches are the ones we don’t want to play.

“I don’t want to think about next season – I want to think about the final we have to play in.”

United has one Premier League match left before the big final against Ajax, a Dutch side which played the youngest side in league history on Sunday.

Report: Man Utd fans only allocated 9,500 tickets for UEL Final

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The UEFA Europa League seemingly wants a small Manchester United presence in Solna for the tournament final against Ajax.

United will be allocated less than a one-fifth of the tickets for the 50,000-seat Friends Arena, with club officials writing supporters to tell them the allotment is between 8,000 and 9,500.

[ MORE: Fellaini scores winner | Mourinho reacts ]

With no public screenings planned in-and-around Stockholm, this severely limits the allure of being in Sweden without a ticket for the event.

In comparison, the BBC reports that Liverpool and Sevilla each received more than 10,000 tickets for last year’s final in Basel despite it being held at a smaller venue than Friends Arena.

The BBC writes “the only United supporters eligible to apply for a ticket will be season ticket holders who have attended every cup game this season and season ticket or executive ticket holders who have applied for a ticket for an away game in Europe at some point over the past two seasons.”