Manchester United don’t play Ajax in the Europa League final until May 24 but Red Devils manager Jose Mourinho has already placed a couple of potential excuses on the record.
After watching his United side scrape past Celta Vigo with a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in Thursday night’s semi-final second leg, Mourinho spoke cautiously when a reporter informed him live on BT Sport that Ajax would provide the opposition in the next round.
Mourinho pointed out that Ajax will have much longer to rest and recuperate ahead of the big match in Stockholm.
Ajax play their final domestic match of the season this Sunday, while United have three Premier League games left to navigate.
As quoted by BBC Sport, Mourinho explained: “Ajax will be difficult, they are a young team, strong team, they finish the league this weekend and will have 12 days to recover. We have three matches in that time.”
Mourinho also expressed concern about the number of United players who will be unavailable to face Ajax, after Eric Bailly earned a suspension by getting sent off against Celta.
On the subject of Bailly’s red card, Mourinho added that his star centre-back had been “naive”, suggesting that Facundo Roncaglia, who was also dismissed, had deliberately provoked him.
He said: “I didn’t see the red card incident but Eric Bailly was phenomenal. The game was emotional for everyone. Some kept control better than others.
“Facundo Roncaglia is not new in these situations, Bailly was probably naive. We now lose a very important player for the final, and we don’t have many.”
Like United, who won 2-1 on aggregate, Ajax only just scraped into the final. The Dutch giants lost 3-1 away to Lyon, narrowly prevailing 5-4 over two legs.
Mourinho has an perfect record against Ajax as a manager, winning six matches out of six. However, all of those games were played out when he was in charge of Real Madrid.
United have faced Ajax just twice this century, losing 2-1 at Old Trafford after winning 2-0 away in the 2011-12 Europa League.