Having successfully beaten Ajax 2-0 in Holland a week prior, United welcomed the Dutch side to Old Trafford for the second leg of their Europa league tie, with the reds looking to consolidate their lead and progress to the next round to face Athletic Bilbao. With important Premier League fixtures against Norwich and Spurs on the horizon, Fergie opted to rest several first teamers, including Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Rio Ferdinand, in favour of a youthful side including both Da Silva twins alongside Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in a back four barely averaging 20 years of age.
With a seemingly unassaible lead, United set about their work with great confidence, playing with a good tempo as Tom Cleverley making his second appearance since returning from injury impressing once again. A strong start was rewarded on 5 minutes, as Dimitar Berbatov picked the ball up 30 yards from goal, finding Hernandez with an inch perfect ball, allowing the Mexican to twist his way into the box and rifle home the opening goal with his left foot. United continued to press, and could have doubled their lead, this time Hernandez the provider, crossing to Berbatov who could not quite reach the pass and steer home the second and ultimately kill the tie off. Rallied by that let off, the visitors began to play like the Ajax we have become accustomed too, with play maker Erikson, a reported target for many of Europe’s top clubs, beginning to influence the game. Some sloppy defending by the reds ten minutes before half time allowed the ball to break to Ajax midfielder Ozbiliz, who sweetly volleyed the ball through the legs of Phil Jones and drew the visitors level on the night.
Half time allowed both sides to draw breath after a pulsating half, which whilst left United firmly in control, presented potential danger if Ajax were to score. This tension visibly affected United in the second half, as Ajax came out firing roared on by their very vocal travelling hordes. A flying block from Rafael to deny Sulejmani’s shot, closely followed by another from Phil Jones did little to ease the nerves around Old Trafford, as memories of the dismal Champions League home form re surfaced in the face of Ajax’s dominance. United looked set to succumb, as a dangerous ball into the box was met by Erikson, but a firm hand from David De Gea from point blank range diverted the ball over the bar and handed United a reprieve.
Scholes’s introduction on the hour mark provided a period of greater calm for the reds, as they looked to stem the tide of the game and control possession as they had done in the opening stages of the first half. Danny Welbeck could have finished things off for United, but instead of going for goal, the England front man tried to square for a team mate, only to find a defender. With time seemingly running out for Ajax, they found the crucial lifeline with just 3 minutes left on the clock, as an inswinging free kick was poorly defended, allowing Alderweireld to run in un marked and put Ajax into the lead on the night and require just the one goal to spring an almight upset. United held on though, and go through to meet Athletic Bilbao in the round of 16.
DDG – 6 Superb save at the end.
Rafael – 7 MOTM Constantly bombing forward and diligent in defence.
Smalling – 5 Not his greatest night in a United shirt.
Jones – 5 Struggles in Europe continued.
Fabio – 6 Attacking threat, needs to work defensively though.
Nani – 5 Frustrating worst.
Park – 5 Not a central midfielder.
Cleverley – 6 Another good hour shift.
Young – 5 Equally frustrating as Nani.
Berbatov – 6 Faded after blistering start.
Hernandez – 6 Took goal brilliantly.
Scholes – 6 Provided calm.
Evans – 5 Went missing for Ajax winner.
Welbeck – 5 Should have done better with late chance.