Ajax v Manchester Utd 18:00 Thurs
In what is the first occurrence since the 2005-06 season, Manchester United will travel to Holland on Thursday as odds on favourites with Paddy Power, in the hope that they can still walk away from this campaign with a European title, as Alex Ferguson gives the captaincy to Rio Ferdinand for the trip.
The Premier League giants crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage for the first time in seven years this term but can still salvage some pride in May, at least when compared to their usual standards.
Alex Ferguson will have to make do without captain Patrice Evra, who is rested for the trip, while Dimitar Berbatov and Ryan Giggs are both out injured.
Standing in their path are fellow Champions League exit side, Ajax, whose youthful squad will undoubtedly leave nothing on the pitch when they aim to cause a tournament upset this week.
With their Premier League title understood to remain as Sir Alex Ferguson’s main target of the 2011-12 season, the Scot may field a side of second-string players in order to keep most of his starting XI fit for domestic football, although he may call on the the likes of Nani and Phil Jones, who are both close to full fitness after a month on the sidelines.
Ferguson could also use the two-legged encounter as a chance to get a first-hand look at some of the Dutch side’s young talent including Christian Eriksen, who has been linked with a move to Old Trafford for the past two seasons, and is sure to use the opportunity to impress ahead of a potential dream move to Old Trafford.
One face who may make a long-anticipated return to the United starting XI is Tom Cleverley who, after three months on the sidelines, was on the bench for the club’s 2-1 win over Liverpool last weekend.
Ajax are having a below-par campaign and are currently sixth in the Eredivisie but have an experienced manager in Dutch legend Frank de Boer, and are sure to look upon the Europa League as an opportunity to exceed above expectations following a lacklustre first half to the season.
The home side will be missing Andre Ooijer, Gregory van der Wiel and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson who are all out for the game at the Amsterdam Arena.