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
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.