Unfamiliar territory for Manchester United as they prepare for first Europa League outing in 17 years

By Steven Oldham, Sports Correspondent

Manchester United take on Ajax tonight in the Europa League in the club’s first game in the competition since 1995.

United are in UEFA’s second tier continental competition after being knocked unceremoniously out of the Champions League in December, when they finished third in their group behind Portuguese side Benfica and shock qualifiers FC Basel.

The draw for the round of 32 could have been kinder to the Old Trafford team after drawing them against Ajax – the Dutch team are four times Champions League winners and won the Europa League in its former guise as the UEFA Cup in 1992.

United have rested some first team players, with Patrice Evra, Ryan Giggs and Dimitar Berbatov all taking no part in tonight’s game.

Tom Cleverley, Nani, Phil Jones and Ashley Young have all travelled to Amsterdam after recent injuries.

There is a youthful feel to Ferguson’s 20 man squad with the inclusion of Paul Pogba and Zeki Fryers.

Ferguson is adamant however that his team would not treat the Europa League as a sub-par competition and that they wanted to go all the way and win it.

 He said: “Winning any European trophy is significant. It is important for us, with our history, to win tournaments all the time.”

Premier League compatriots and arch rivals Manchester City travel to Portugal in another tough clash with FC Porto, who are the reigning Europa League champions.

Porto also have extensive Champions League pedigree, winning the tournament as recently as 2004.

The Premier League leaders can once again call on the Toure brothers, Kolo and Yaya after their return from the African Cup of Nations where their heavily fancied Ivory Coast team lost to Zambia in the final on Sunday.

Mario Balotelli could also feature after serving a domestic suspension, but Carlos Tevez will not feature after his self imposed exile led to him not being registered with UEFA for the tournament.

Should either team make it to the final, they will face a trip to Romania as the Stadionul National in Bucharest hosts its’ first continental final.

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