Below-par Manchester United hobble over the line against Ajax to keep European ambitions alive
Manchester United 1-2 Ajax
Manchester United have limped past Ajax to book a Europa League last-16 tie with Athletic Bilbao.
Javier Hernandez opened the scoring after five minutes, which was then levelled by Aras Ozbiliz with a 20 yard drive, and with three minutes remaining Toby Alderweireld’s header gave Ajax a 2-1 victory on the night. However, it arrived too late and Manchester United took the tie 3-2 on aggregate.
Ajax started the game extremely brightly, shifting the ball wide at every opportunity. Their first opening came when Miralem Sulejmani whipped a delicious ball across the box, only to see Rafael Da Silva to intercept it.
Moments later, Ajax forced a corner; however, Christian Eriksen’s delivery was unusually poor.
After five minutes, Dimitar Berbatov found Javier Hernandez on the edge of the penalty area, skipped back inside the covering defender, and found the bottom corner of the net.
As Ajax looked to get themselves back into the tie, Miralem Sulejmani found an opening, but his tame effort went harmlessly wide of the target.
After a sustained period of pressure, Ajax got the goal they deserved.
The onrushing Sulejmani controlled the ball with his elbow, yes, his elbow and it bobbled back to Aras Ozbiliz, the Armenian International drilled his shot past David De Gea.
The second half started, and Ajax looked a real threat going forward; with Miralem Sulejmani and the impressive Aras Ozbiliz looking the pick the bunch.
In the next passage of play, Christian Eriksen’s well-flighted corner found Siem De Jong, but his strike was saved by David De Gea.
With twenty minutes remaining, Sir Alex decided to bring on Paul Scholes and, as usual, his calming influence had an immediate effect.
As United looked to close the game out, Nani hit the bar with a well-struck drive and the back four limited Ajax to one or two half-chances.
But a twist was yet to come.
With just three minutes to go, Ajax took the lead after a close-range header from Toby Alderweireld.
However, despite a shaky start, a wobble in the middle and a ‘squeaky bum’ moment at the end, United took the tie 3-2 on aggregate and now face Athletico Bilbao in the next round.