Europa League: Man Utd must be on front foot against Ajax - Phil Neville

Europa League final: Ajax v Man Utd

Phil Neville is co-commentating on the Europa League final for BBC Radio 5 live on Wednesday, 24 May. Build-up to Ajax v Manchester United starts at 18:30 BST, with kick-off at 19:45.

My fear for Manchester United in the Europa League final is they are weighed down by the pressure of having to win it to get into next season's Champions League.

If United were heading to Stockholm having already qualified by finishing in the Premier League top four on top of having the EFL Cup in the bag, then I think their players would be a lot more relaxed.

Instead, all of United's eggs are now in one basket, which is a dangerous situation to be in against a really good young Ajax team.

How to beat Ajax - play on the front foot

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Ajax are very impressive technically and they have lots of energy too.

Their front five - with Bertrand Traore and Amin Younes either side of Kasper Dolberg in attack, and Davy Klaassen and Hakim Ziyech in the centre of midfield - give them goals and creativity, and a good mixture of pace and skill.

Traore is very quick down the right but a little bit erratic, while Younes on the left is a good dribbler - he is not rapid but he is pretty sharp.

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What Peter Bosz's team do well is play a high-tempo game - they like to press and win the ball back early.

To counter that, United have to be really brave and mirror the approach they had when they beat Chelsea at Old Trafford in April.

They tore out of the blocks in that game and went toe to toe with Antonio Conte's side. They were positive and they put the champions under pressure, and never allowed them to settle.

United played on the front foot that day and used the speed of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford to pester Chelsea. The energy in midfield of Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba overpowered them.

If they do the same again on Wednesday, I don't think Ajax will be able to live with them.

Get past the Ajax press and their defence looks vulnerable

Ajax striker Kaper Dolberg
Danish striker Kasper Dolberg, 19, has scored a total of 23 goals in 47 games in all competitions for Ajax in 2016-17, including six in the Europa League

Klaassen and Ziyech, in particular, are capable of dictating play if you let them, but if United get in their faces early on then they will not be able to find their rhythm.

And Ajax's defence is definitely their weakness. They press on transition - whenever they lose the ball - but if you get past that initial press then there are some big spaces behind it, and their back line looks vulnerable.

Kenny Tete at right-back is not quick, and centre-back Matthijs de Ligt is only 17 and erratic. The Europa League final is going to be a huge occasion for him.

What United definitely shouldn't do is sit back like they did at Old Trafford in the second legs of their quarter-final and semi-final.

When they did that against Anderlecht and Celta Vigo, they got nervous. United were not playing well and it became a struggle as their opponents grew in confidence.

United cannot allow that to happen again. They should see this as a game where they have to go out and start fast.

If they put Ajax under pressure early on, and do some damage, they can seize control of the game.

Been there and done it all before

Mourinho's record in European finals
Jose Mourinho has won all three of his European finals so far - the 2003 Uefa Cup and 2004 Champions League with Porto, and the 2010 Champions League with Inter Milan. Including domestic competition, he has been in 13 finals - and won 11 of them

Ajax's inexperience is definitely something United should try to exploit - none of their players have featured in a game as big as this before.

But the Dutch team also do not have to deal with the same expectation of winning that United do, and they are already into the third qualifying round of next season's Champions League after finishing second in the Eredivisie - so the final is not make or break for them.

On occasions like this, you wonder whether players will freeze or play without fear, and it is the same for United's younger players too.

If there was ever a game in which United needed the know-how of injured striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it might be this one - because he would not be scared of what was at stake.

Ibrahimovic has already delivered for United in the Community Shield and EFL Cup final. It is big games like this in which you need your big players, and there are none bigger at United than him.

I think United will miss Zlatan, but what they do have in their favour is a manager who has been there and done it all before.

Jose Mourinho has great experience, not just of the big occasions but of winning them. He is a serial winner and knows how to set up a team to win a final, and that is where I think United have the greatest advantage.

Mourinho will have a massive influence on the day but he has already got all of the energy back into his team before the final.

I don't think he can complain about them being tired because he has given his players the rest they needed in the three Premier League games they have played since they reached the final.

United will be mentally fresh for this game, for the first time in about five or six weeks.

It is a one-off game and finals are so unpredictable - but, under Mourinho, they will be ready.

United mindset has echoes of glorious past

Man Utd celebrate Champions League victory in 1999
Phil Neville and his United team-mates celebrate their famous victory over Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final

The difference between United's form going into this final and the 1999 Champions League success that I was part of comes down to momentum.

Back then, we had just won the Premier League and then the FA Cup.

But there are still similarities this time - things that were drummed into you at Old Trafford when I was there, and still are under Mourinho.

It is still the case that you cannot enjoy a final unless you win it. Getting there is not enough, even if by doing so you have already created history, as United have done by reaching a Europa League final for the first time.

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And United still measure themselves on trophies won, not the fact they have finished outside the Champions League positions in the Premier League.

Mourinho's whole philosophy is about winning, so you have got to admire the fact that, if they beat Ajax, they have two major trophies to show for their season.

For me, that means they have been more successful than three of the clubs who finished above them in the table - Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool, who finished second, third and fourth.

I would rather finish sixth and win two major trophies than finish second with none - that was the mentality I was brought up with at Old Trafford and I am pleased it is the same there now.

Prizes and podiums worth more than league positions

Top of the Premier League

Winning trophies gives you a taste of something you want more of, which is why success in Stockholm is important for this United team in the future, as well as the here and now.

If you finish second, third or fourth and you don't get your hands on a trophy or a medal, you don't get to step on to that winning podium. There are no prizes in fact.

There are several United players who have never won a trophy with the club, and I know what a boost getting some silverware gives you and how you get a thirst for more.

Beating Ajax would make a big difference for next season, not just by getting them into the Champions League but to give them an advantage over the teams who have finished above them but have not got anything to show for it.

Phil Neville was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

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