United take a comfortable lead back to Old Trafford, courtesy of second half goals from Ashley Young and Javier Hernandez, but will be without Antonio Valencia for up to four weeks, after the Ecuadorian winger suffered a hamstring injury.
After an incredibly poor Champions League campaign, which saw United failing to qualify for the round of 16, Ferguson had warned his side against complacency and got the professional response he was looking for.
United, playing in the competition for the first time since 1995, welcomed back Phil Jones, Nani and Tom Cleverley.
With Evra rested and Giggs and Berbatov injured, Ferguson opted to send out a strong line-up with DeGea in goal, a back four composed by Jones, Ferdinand, Evans and Fabio while Cleverley and Carrick operated in the middle, supported by Nani and Young. Hernandez got the nod ahead of Welbeck to partner Wayne Rooney, who was looking to add to his tally of 10 goals in his last 9 appearances.
Ajax, once a European giant now a team in disarray lacerated by internal issues, started positively, keeping the ball nicely while United were happy to sit back and looked to hurt on the break.
Christian Eriksen was in the thick of the action for the hosts, the Danish playmaker, who’s apparently on United’s radar, doing his best to create chances.
In truth Ajax’s chances were only half chances but, nevertheless, de Jong forced a smart save from DeGea, after hitting a ferocious effort that looked destined for the top corner.
United, unusually sluggish in possession, had good spells of their own with Young and Jones delivering dangerous crosses into the box.
Rooney and Hernandez were left to cut frustrated figures though, particularly as Nani was a bit wasteful in possession.
Just before halftime Ajax appealed for a penalty when Suleimani looked to have been brought down by Ferdinand.
The referee waved play on and his decision was a correct one as replays showed that, while the Serb had got to the ball first, Ferdinand had not made contact with him.
Despite a far from thrilling first period the United fans were in fine voice at halftime. The traveling contingent – well oiled after visiting the local bars – didn’t even seem to mind the new competition too much, offering their appreciation for one of the Europa League’s broadcasters: “Oh Channel 5 is wonderful, is full of t**s, f***y and United, oh Channel 5 is wonderful”.
United came out firing in the second half, with Hernandez calling Vermeer in action as the Ajax keeper was forced to make a few good saves.
United were ahead after 59 minutes. Ajax failed to clear a corner allowing Nani to drift a cross in the box, which was blocked into Young’s path. The former Villa man took a step to compose himself, before firing the ball in between Vermeer’s legs to put United 1-0 up.
It was United’s first goal in the competition since Peter Schmeichel scored against Rotor Volgograd 19 years ago, in what was then known as UEFA Cup.
Aras Ozbiliz could have drawn Ajax level within a minute from the restart, but saw his effort flashing inches over the bar.
Scholes and Valencia replaced Cleverley and Young and the Ecuadorian’s superb run set up United’s second goal after Rooney played Hernandez through for an easy finish.
Unfortunately for Ferguson, Valencia got injured in the process and will be out for about four weeks, a huge blow given the outstanding form the former Wigan man has enjoyed lately.
Ajax had the last chance of the game, as Suleimani failed to make the post of a poor DeGea’s goal-kick.
United take a healthy lead back to Old Trafford and look set for a trip to the round of 16, while Ajax will need a miracle to qualify.
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