|Villareal outlast United in a penalty shootout to lift the Europa League trophy, their first in history. (Photo credit: ESPN)
It was a big moment, one many expected to swing the way of United considering squad quality and present day dynamics, it was theirs for the taking but a certain Unai Emery wouldn’t just lie there and be beaten, he won again.
Manchester United filed out in Gdansk for the final of the UEFA Europa League against Villareal and even the bookmakers favored the Premier League side to win.
There was no need to risk Samuel Chukwueze so Emery opted for a balanced 4-4-2 with the defense including a 36 year old Raul Albiol, on the flip side, United couldn’t call on Harry Maguire so Eric Bailly deputized at center back.
Unai Emery had won three of the four Europa League finals he had gotten to in the past and he seemed the perfect man for the tournament but in his way was a Manchester United side that had everything to prove for all of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s work at Old Trafford, a silverware is needed to crown it.
Villareal finished seventh in the league, they were on top of it to finish in Europa Places but capitulated late on in their final La Liga fixture against a title chasing Real Madrid, but they also had it at the back of their mind that a win in Gdansk over United won’t only land them in Europa but right in the UCL.
For Manchester United, it’s about going one better, win a silverware and help the CV of their manager, it was all in their hands and the fact they finished second with the amount of quality in the Premier League serves as a testimonial to their hard work.
The first half was largely dominated by United but they kept fluffing chances until the Yellow Submarines struck. It was Villareal’s first ever major final, they came closest to one in 2006 when Arsenal dumped them in the semifinals of the champions league, they wouldn’t let this slip.
In a very nervy first half, Gerard Moreno got on the end of a well floated free kick and caught David De Gea napping to hand the Spanish side a first half lead but Edison Cavani canceled the advantage early in the second half.
United were the better side in the second half but they couldn’t break down the Yellow Submarines, you can call it “haram football” but others will call it “Emery ball” as the men in yellow sat deep, soaked pressure and was looking to break.
The game went into extra time and it was still even, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer left it late on substitutions but to be honest, there weren’t too many winners on the bench for him to call on.
The shootout was next and it was sensational as both sides converted the first five, stats will always rear heads, David De Gea hadn’t saved from the spot since 2016, who would have thought considering how solid he is in between the sticks.
It went on and on until the two goalkeepers had to step up and former Manchester City goalkeeper in goal for Villareal Geronimo Rulli converted but when David De Gea stepped up, his run lacked confidence and his decision to go too close to the goalkeeper haunted him, it was saved.
Ole Gunnar Solkjaer was in despair, United players crashed to the ground as they ended the season in pains, for all the runs of Greenwood, the spot kicks of Fernandes and the dance steps of Paul Pogba, it’s a failed season by all standards but they’re in the UCL next season… they’ll go again.
the post match conference, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said: "It's
not a successful season of course,
the Europa League we have been absolutely impeccable. Since the very first
moment. Some days we were coming at 6am to the stadium to prepare a game for
the Sunday. All of this makes the journey [worthwhile]," Emery told a news
Emery was fired by Arsenal when results weren’t looking good, he has turned
that disappointment into a learning curve and now he’s a winner again.
"When I was at Arsenal we played a Europa League final
and could not win but it is a process, from that game I learned a lot to win
this one maybe."