Manchester United’s short-term future rests on the Europa League final which takes place tonight.
Jose Mourinho put all his eggs in the Europa League basket towards the end of last month, and it’s paid off so far, despite United missing out on a top-four spot in the Premier League.
They beat Celta Vigo in an emphatic manner to make it this far into the competition. They now go up against a different kind of threat – Ajax, whose players are keen on making their presence felt in Europe and returning some prestige to a side who once sat on the pinnacle of world football.
Contrary to what many have suggested, there’s a huge chance that Manchester United won’t have it easy against Ajax. They’ve been touted to claim the trophy with a dominant performance, but Ajax are no pushovers, and that’s been exemplified by the fact they’re in the final in the first place.
Should Manchester United fall short of expectations, everybody involved with the club will be plunged into a wave of disbelief, one birthed out of massive disappointment after harbouring hopes of making it into next season’s Champions League and moving past the club’s stagnant post-Fergie period.
Jose Mourinho, especially, will be viewed as somewhat of a failure as his decision to prioritise the Europa League would’ve amounted to nothing but the agony of defeat.
Without the Europa League trophy, Mourinho’s only successes in his first season at United would be winning the FA Cup and getting the team to play attractive football after Louis Van Gaal took them down the path of pointless sideway passes and long balls.
Manchester United would be right back to square one if they fail to clinch the trophy. They also won’t be able to lure some players in the summer transfer window, such as Antoine Griezmann, due to their absence from the Champions League.
Reaching the Europa League final is usually something to be proud of, but not when you’re a team of United’s stature. Considering all the money that has been invested into the squad, as well as the authority attached to the club’s name, anything short of the trophy won’t go down well with most of the club’s supporters.
Mourinho was brought into the club to bring the glory days back to Old Trafford, and do that he must!. United can’t afford to slack tonight – complacency and a bad performance on their part could see the title slip from their grasps.
United are without Eric Bailly who received a red card in the semi-final against Celta Vigo. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is also unavailable to feature in his home country due to a knee injury that will keep him out for a while.
Ample replacements are available for both players, though, as Wayne Rooney, Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial could lead the line alongside Mkhitaryan and Lingard on the flanks while in defence, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling could form a double-act.
A lot is at stake tonight, so much so that Manchester United just cannot afford to lose.