MANCHESTER UNITED’S season will be judged as a success or a failure depending on how their Europa League final against Ajax goes.
Jose Mourinho has thrown all his eggs into one basket knowing a win on Wednesday would see his side playing Champions League football next season.
Defeat would mean they would be back in Europe’s second-tier competition after their sixth-placed finish.
Keep up with the news, build-up and LIVE action in our Europa League final blog
Football Whispers have looked at the potential key battles in the game.
Marcus Rashford vs Davinson Sanchez
AFTER making his goalscoring debut in the Europa League against Midtjylland last season, Rashford has gone from strength to strength.
He is now an England international and first-team regular for Manchester United.
His stunning free-kick gave Mourinho’s side a 1-0 lead against Celta Vigo to take back to Old Trafford in the semi-finals.
And with Zlatan Ibrahimovic injured, the 19-year-old has taken on the lead as United’s main striker.
He has 11 goals in 52 appearances this season, including two in ten in the Europa League.
If he is to score in the final, he will have to find his way past Ajax Player of the Year Sanchez.
The Colombian centre-back has quickly developed a reputation as one of the brightest young defenders in European football.
The 20-year-old arrived at Ajax last summer for £4million after helping Atletico Nacional clinch the Copa Libertadores title.
He was also a Barcelona transfer target but turned down a move to the Camp Nou as he wanted to get first-team football, something he get at Ajax.
After making one appearance for Jong Ajax he has featured in more than 40 games for the senior side.
And Sanchez is picking up plaudits from Dutch greats with Ruud Gullit comparing him to a defensive legend.
He said: “Jaap Stam was the last Ajax player with such defensive qualities.”
Sanchez himself added: “I am a spirited defender who likes to have the ball at his feet. That’s one of my strengths.
“In South America, Ajax is known as the pathway to a rewarding career in Europe.
“I just got here, I want to be of great value to the club before I take the next step.”
He likes to have the ball at his feet – no other players in the Dutch top flight attempted more passes than Sanchez’s 2,270 in the 2016-17 season.
If he keeps on impressing, perhaps by keeping Rashford quiet, that next step he mentions may come sooner rather than later.
Paul Pogba vs Davy Klaassen
THE match may be won in the middle of the pitch where Pogba will face Ajax captain Klaassen.
Only Ibrahimovic has had more shots per game in the Europa League, 3.4, than Pogba’s 3.1.
The world’s most expensive player is also the only United player to feature in every one of their 14 European matches this season.
Whether he’s lived up to expectation is up for debate.
The 24-year-old has made 50 appearances for Mourinho’s side but only scored eight goals and provided six assists in all competitions.
And his compatriot, former France international Thierry Henry, says Mourinho has employed Pogba in the wrong way this season.
He said: “They don’t use Pogba where he should be playing – he’s not a holding midfielder, he likes to play higher or off the left.
“You lose a bit of him when he plays deeper. When you have a price tag like his, people are always going to talk.
“It could be good if someone comes in during the summer with a bigger price tag, then people might leave Pogba alone.”
But if he gets the goal that takes them to the Champions League, all that will be forgotten.
But Pogba will come up against Klaassen in the middle of the pitch.
The 24-year-old Dutchman, who came through the academy at Ajax, is thought to be an Everton transfer target and has and has been directly involved in 32 goals – scoring 20 and getting 12 assists – in all competitions this season.
And his eye for a goal from midfield is notable – his shot accuracy of 45 per cent this season is higher than any of the expected United options in the middle of the park.
Pogba’s is 42 per cent, Marouane Fellaini’s is 39 per cent and Ander Herrera’s is just 23 per cent.
The Dutchman’s work ethic and willingness to take responsibility for organising his side in the centre of the park could be a key factor in the final.
United will be keen to shut him down and stop him having a major influence on the game.
Daley Blind vs Kasper Dolberg
WEDNESDAY night will be an emotional one for Blind.
Manchester United’s No17 is a product of the Ajax academy and was at the club from 1998 until he moved to Old Trafford in 2014.
His father Danny Blind made more than 400 appearances for the club after joining them in 1986 and was manager there from 2005 to 2006.
But the United defender says he’ll put that behind him for Wednesday’s match.
He said: “Everybody knows I support Ajax, I am from Amsterdam and I played there since I was seven.
“But now I am at United I am a Red and I want to win this final more than anything in the world.
“It will be a special evening for me but I will prepare like my team-mates and be ready to do my utmost.”
And for Blind to have a good game, he’ll have to play an important role in shutting down teenage goalscoring sensation Kasper Dolberg.
The 19-year-old Danish forward has scored 23 times in 47 competitions in his breakthrough season at the club.
This season he has been named Ajax Young Player of the Year, as well as winning the Johan Cruyff Award for the best under-21 talent in the Eredivisie.
He has shown himself to be an innovative forward capable of neat touches and mesmerising flicks.
Dolberg has the ability to hold off defenders and beat a man in a one-on-one situation and, at 6ft 1ins, he can be a focal point for a team too.
He’ll be a handful for Blind and the United backline.