Ajax Vs. Manchester United, 2012 Europa League: Red Devils Defense Should Be Tested

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - FEBRUARY 15: Sir Alex Ferguson (R) manager of Manchester United speaks to the media next to Wayne Rooney during a press conference on the eve of the Europa League match between Ajax and Manchester United at Amsterdam Arena on February 15, 2012 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

Manchester United kicks off their Europa League campaign against Ajax on Thursday.

Manchester United won't be happy with their fall into the UEFA Europa League, but expect them to take the competition seriously, along with their match against Ajax on Thursday. The reigning Dutch champions were dumped out of the Champions League in dramatic fashion on goal differential, while the Red Devils simply lost a game they needed to draw to stay in.

Both teams are dealing with injuries to key players. United defender Nemanja Vidic and Ajax forward Kolbeinn Sigthorsson are still out with long-term injuries and aren't scheduled to return anytime soon. Gregory Van der Wiel and Phil Jones are also among those out for this match.

During the game, all eyes will be on young Danish international playmaker Christian Eriksen, who has been linked to all of the world's top clubs, including Manchester United. With Ajax outside of Champions League spots in the Eredivisie, they might have no choice but to sell stars like Jan Verthongen, Van der Wiel and Eriksen in the summer. The big English clubs are very much interested in all three players.

Ajax should have a serious advantage in the center of the park with three in the middle at home, but it will be interesting to see whether or not they have an answer for Wayne Rooney. Theo Janssen, usually the most defensive of Ajax's midfield three, did not play over the weekend. He's expected to make the 18 on Thursday night, but can't be considered a lock to go 90 minutes. Rooney could end up having plenty of time and space on the ball, and he's brilliant at finding the striker in front of him and the wingers to either side of him when he does.

Ajax injured/unavailable: Gregory Van der Wiel, Andre Oojier, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson

Manchester United injured/unavailable: Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov, Phil Jones

Projected Ajax Lineup (4-3-3): Kenneth Vermeer; Dico Koppers, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Verthongen, Vurnon Anita; Theo Janssen, Eyong Enoh, Christian Eriksen; Dmitry Bulykin, Siem de Jong, Miralem Sulejmani

Projected Manchester United Lineup (4-4-1-1): David De Gea; Fabio da Silva, Rio Ferdinand, Johnny Evans, Rafael da Silva; Park Ji-Sung, Tom Cleverley, Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia; Wayne Rooney; Javier Hernandez

Ajax vs. Manchester United

Game Date/Time: Thursday, February 16, 1:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. local

Venue: Amsterdam Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands

TV: DirecTV Soccer (USA), Telelatino (Canada), Channel 5 (UK)

For more on the Red Devils, check out Manchester United blog The Busby Babe.

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