Manchester United’s owners wanted to ditch this competition but the devastation at the final whistle in Gdansk Stadium shows how much European glory can mean to the club.
David De Gea, on his 10th anniversary at the club, cut a desolate figure as he walked through the celebrations of Villarreal, gloveless after missing the first spot-kick in a marathon penalty shootout.
One month after the Glazers’ attempt to breakaway, this was the evidence of how badly they got it wrong. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s players had to fight until the end of 120 minutes against a team from a tiny Spanish town, built on a fraction of the money United have.
United had fought back after Gerard Moreno had opened the scoring. It needed Edinson Cavani to equalise before a penalty shootout involving all 22 players and they could still not sink the Spaniards.
Solskjaer’s prediction that May 26 was a good omen turned out to be wrong. It was the date where he won the treble for United 22 years ago and he came so close to his first trophy as United’s manager.
Nothing may top the Nou Camp for drama but this was still a memorable shootout in defeat, his team showing character to battle their way back against a team who looked confident of an upset and a coach who has now won the competition four times.
Solskjaer saw winning a first semi-final in five attempts as a breakthrough and must have hoped a first trophy, two-and-a-half seasons after taking over from Jose Mourinho, would further the progress with foundations in place. They were only in the Europa after crashing out of the Champions League group stage and the task is now to overcome this setback.
As it happened
10:58pm Well done Villarreal
They came with a plan and in the end (and what an end) it paid off…
United weren’t good enough on the night. They had a lot of possession but so few chances to so for it.
The penalty shootout was as dramatic as you’re likely to see BUT in the end De Gea’s miss (yes, the keeper) meant the famous trophy is going back to Spain.
10:56pm VILLARREAL WIN THE EUROPA LEAGUE
What a penalty shootout and what pain for De Gea…
10:55pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 11 – 10 Man Utd
De Gea MISSES!
10:55pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 11 – 10 Man Utd
It’s now the keepers’ turn
10:54pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 10 – 10 Man Utd
Lindelof steps up and…
20 taken, 20 scored – wow
10:53pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 10 – 9 Man Utd
Another fantastic pen into the roof of the net.
This time by Torres.
10:53pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 9 – 9 Man Utd
Tuanzebe – what a penalty!
10:52pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 9 – 8 Man Utd
Martínez smacks it in
10:51pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 8 – 8 Man Utd
Luke Shaw just squeezes it past Rulli and Shaw is relieved…
16 from 16…wow
10:51pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 8 – 7 Man Utd
Coquelin, formerly of Arsenal smacks it high into the net – very impressive
10:50pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 7 – 7 Man Utd
James does very well – sending Rulli the wrong way.
14 taken 14 scored. Impressive.
10:49pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 7 -6 Man Utd
Albiol cool as you like – sends De Gea the wrong way
10:48pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 6 -6 Man Utd
Fearless Fred – great hit into the corner with his left.
10:48pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 6 -5 Man Utd
Moi Gomez straight down the middle – no mistake.
10:47pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 5 -5 Man Utd
Cavani has to score AND DOES…
So impressive from all ten pen takers.
10:47pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 5 -4 Man Utd
Sudden death now…bite your nails time…
Parejo SCORES – hammered into the corner – that is good under pressure.
They’ve scored all five…
Pressure on UNITED.
10:45pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 4-4 Man Utd
10:45pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 4-3 Man Utd
Alberto Moreno, once of Liverpool, makes no mistake.
10:44pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 3-3 Man Utd
Fernandes has only missed once for United – he goes to the keeper’s right and Rulli nearly gets there but it’s in.
10:44pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 3-2 Man Utd
Alcácer JUST scores….
10:43pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 2-2 Man Utd
Telles, the other sub is up for Man Utd.
He does what he was brought on to do – another good pen.
10:42pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 2-1 Man Utd
Rabaseda scores for the Spaniards.
10:41pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
First for United is Mata…
Has he even touched the ball?
He has now as he scores – good pen into the corner.
10:41pm PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
Villarreal go first…
G Moreno steps up first and slots home to De Gea’s right sending the keeper the wrong way.
10:39pm STAT ATTACK
United have lost their past six shootouts…according to the guys in the BT Sport studio…
10:36pm WE”RE GOING TO PENALTIES!
It ends 1-1 after 120 minutes of cagey stuff.
Only three shots on target for United suggest they maybe didn’t take enough risks. BUT Villarreal defended well and with a lot of discipline.
Who will hold their nerve and go on to life the famous trophy?
10:35pm 121 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Raba replaces Capoue. (you can make another sub in extra time) so Villarreal have made six changes.
10:34pm 121 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
United are trying to bring on Mata and Telles (a good penalty taker)
The ball goes out and Solskjaer can make his ‘we’re going to a penalty shootout’ substitutions.
Mata and Telles are on for McTominay and Wan Bissaka.
10:32pm 120 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
I was wrong there are 180 seconds to go – three minutes have been added to the second half of extra time.
10:30pm 119 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Sixty seconds or so to go…
10:29pm 116 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
It’s all rather scrappy at the moment – players are falling over and no chances are looking even remotely likely to be created any time soon.
10:27pm 114 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Bailly is off for Tuanzebe. AND Pogba is off for James.
You would have thought Rashford would have made way for James….
10:26pm 112 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Lindelof is hurried into a mistake just outside the box allowing Villarreal to cause havoc in the United area. United block a shot and if anyone is going to win from here it’s the Spaniards.
There’s a VAR check for a possible penalty – the ball hit Fred’s hand, apparently – but it’s not given with the ball having hit the pitch before bouncing up onto the Brazilian’s hand.
10:22pm 110 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Rashford is down after getting in behind the Spanish defence and causing mild panic before Rulli collects the ball in the Villarreal goal.
He hobbles off (not what Gareth Southgate wants to see) before hobbling back on (more what Southgate wants to see…)
10:19pm 108 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Free kick for Villarreal inside the United half. Parejo, usually good from dead ball situations, flights the ball into the hands of a grateful De Gea.
10:18pm 107 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
United will want this to be over (having won, obvs)_ before it goes to penalties as Emery sides do well with spotkicks in this competition.
10:16pm 105 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Second half of extra time in under way.
Villarreal have a big squad-sized huddle before the whistle blows.
United need one of their big names to step up in the next 15 minutes.
BIG NEWS – no changes by Solskjaer. Interesting…
10:14pm EXTRA TIME – HALF TIME: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
United looked tired that mini half and the momentum has shifted to Villarreal, who look the fresher side.
Solskjaer needs to make some changes here.
10:13pm 104 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Rashford is found by Pogba on the right but he’s flagged for offside – the replay shows it to be the right call.
10:12pm 104 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
United are being pegged back here – De Gea intercepts a cross and I reckon a few tired legs will appreciated the very quick break that half time in extra time will afford.
10:10pm 102 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Free kick on the left for Villarreal. Parejo fizzes one in deep that De Gea punches away for a corner.
From that set piece the Spaniards lost the ball allowing United to break. It looks promising until the former Watford man Capoue wins the ball off Rashford.
10:08pm 100 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Alcacer now finds himself in space in the final third and his shot is fired over. Villarreal are on top in extra time.
That’s enough for Solskjaer as he brings on Fred for Greenwood.
10:07pm 99 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
The Spaniards have a good chance.
United are looking tired and VIllarreal find Alberto Moreno in the box on the left. The former Liverpool man, however, cannot do his old side a bragging rights favour as he smashes his shot well wide.
10:05pm 97 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
The Spaniards aren’t sitting back at the moment – perhaps realising they have the fresher legs while United still have a full subs bench.
10:03pm 95 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Solskjaer will surely go to his bench in a bit – Villarreal look the fresher of the two sides. James, Mata and Van de Beek are those who you’d think will be looking to get a run out.
10:02pm 93 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Shock – Villarreal see a bit of the ball and it’s United’s turn to sit back – it’s been a rather pedestrian start to extra time.
10:00pm 92 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
McTominay has been excellent tonight – he’s not a player that grabs the headlines but he’s been one of the best players on the pitch tonight. He plays his part and United press forward, and, as with a lot of tonight, without luck.
09:58pm 91 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Shaw crosses to the back post – it’s too deep and Rulli comes and claims with ease.
09:57pm 90 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
EXTRA TIME is under way.
Someone needs to step up for either side. It’s been a cagey affair and United have, for all their possession, only had two shots on target.
BIG NEWS: Still no changes for Manchester United.
09:54pm FULL TIME: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
We going into extra time!
Much better from United that half – they played with more intensity, passed the ball around quicker and deserved the equaliser. Chances are still few and far between but having not yet made any subs they should be the fresher of the two sides for the extra 30 minutes.
09:52pm 91 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Three mins off added time to go.
From a free kick Villarreal keep the ball alive before Torres has a bit of space but his shot doesn’t trouble De Gea.
09:50pm 90 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Barring some Solskjaer-esque magic we’re about to head into extra-time.
09:49pm 88 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Shaw crosses from the left (where else?) and Pogba heads over from 15 yards – he had to generate all the power in that one. A half-chance at best.
09:48pm 86 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
More changes for Villarreal.
Foyth and Pedraza are off Mario Gaspar and Alberto Moreno on. That’s all five subs used now.
09:45pm 84 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Cavani gets on the end of a Shaw cross, it’s blocked. But the ref goes back for a late tackle on Shaw by Foyth. It just a yellow (it looks a bad challenge, late and high (ish)) and a free kick from the left for United.
Fernandes takes it but between them McTominay and Rashford cannot get a shot on target and Villarreal breathe again.
09:42pm 83 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Bailly is adjudged to have struck Alcacer while on the move. It’s a free kick to Villarreal and only a yellow to the Man Utd defender.
From the set piece Villarreal give De Gea a bit of catching practice.
09:40pm 81 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Into the last 10 minutes in Gdansk – Villarreal would take extra time now.
09:40pm 79 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
United look fitter, quicker and are doing everything right here bar find the back of the net for what, I reckon, would be the winner.
09:39pm 78 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Rashford wins the ball on the left but cannot play Cavani in.
It’s attack vs defence at the moment as McTominay (who’s been impressive this half) gets to the byline and crosses for Cavani who cannot get on the end of it while trying to backheel the ball in.
09:37pm 77 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Pino and Trigueros are off Alcacer and Moi Gomez are on for the Spaniards.
09:36pm 76 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
A rare foray forward for Villarreal sees Pedraza win a corner.
From the set piece Trigueros wins another corner. after his long-range effort is deflected.
This time Villarreal try to be cute, United hold firm and see off the danger.
09:33pm 74 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
United keep on winning the ball back high up the pitch and the pressure is relentless at the moment fort Villarreal.
09:32pm 71 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
United are turning up the heat now.
Shaw does the unthinkable, comes in and shoots on his right foot, it turns into a fierce cross (he is so left footed, after all) that Cavani heads towards goal. That effort is well blocked but this is much better from United.
09:30pm 67 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
WHAT. A. CHANCE.
Fernandes gets in behind the defence on the right and plays a first time ball into the box. It’s met by Rashford whose shot is far from decisive and goes wide past the onrushing Rulli. It might have been called offside had it hit the back of the net but the boy wonder should have done at least that.
09:28pm 67 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Free kick for United on the left, in the final third. Shaw swings one in and Villarreal clear well.
The Spaniards look like they’re happy to again sit back and try take this into extra time.
09:26pm Golden oldie
09:26pm 65 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
United are moving the ball around quicker and both asking more questions of Villarreal, and getting higher into the final third, as a result.
Fernandes has a shot from 25 yards that is well blocked.
09:24pm 62 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
This half is taking on the same form as the first before the Moreno goal. United are dominating possession and Villarreal are unable to get out of their half.
09:19pm 58 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Villarreal make a change – Bacca is off for Coquelin.
If anything that’s a defensive change – moving to a 4-5-1. Interesting.
09:18pm Classic Cavani
09:17pm 56 mins: Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
There’s almost another as Fernandes’ shot from 25 years just evades the outstretched leg of Cavani.
United are on top.
09:16pm GOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLL!!!Villarreal 1-1 Man Utd
Shaw swings in the corner, it’s cleared to Pogba whose shot from the edge of the box creates a bit of pinball in the area, Cavani is the quickest to react slotting the ball in the back of the net.
HANG ON there’s a VAR check and (breathe easily Man Utd fans) THE GOAL STANDS!
09:14pm 51 mins: Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
Pogba gets on the end of a free kick – McTominay does well to first keep the ball and then get in a shot that goes for a corner.
09:13pm 51 mins: Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
Greenwood goes down in the box – there’s a halfhearted appeal. It looks like Greenwood has got the ball and been caught. In comes VAR and after 30 seconds the video geeks decide it’s no penalty.
09:10pm 49 mins: Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
United need to pass this ball around quicker and not make it so easy for VIllarreal to get back and sit with ease.
09:08pm 47 mins: Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
Bailly gives away a free kick on the halfway line. The ball comes into the box Bailly misses it and it’s chaos before, somehow, United are able to clear their lines. That would have been a disaster had Villarreal been able to capitalise on that defensive error.
09:05pm 45 mins: Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
Back under way in Gdansk.
Can United break down this dogged Villarreal defence?
08:58pm It’s not all been underwhelming
08:56pm Don’t panic!
Well, not just yet. Remember United are the second-half specialists and Pauls Scholes, in the BT Sport studio, is confident his former side can break Villarreal down and then go on to score two or three.
08:52pm HALF TIME: Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
Well, that didn’t go according to plan for United.
From the start Villarreal have set up to stifle Solskjaer’s side and have done so with aplomb. They are defending deeper than an M Night Shyamalan film and United cannot find any space and, as a result, are yet to create a clear cut chance.
They have the players to get that all-important goal but unlocking this Villarreal defence will be tough now the Spaniards have that goal lead.
08:48pm 46 mins Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
Corner for VIllarreal.
De Gea punches clear and that is half time.
08:47pm 45 mins Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
Rashford shows a bit of flair and tries to work an opening in the box but it’s well defended.
The next attack sees Greenwood beat his man on the right before driving in a low cross that could have gone anyway. Better from United.
08:46pm 43 mins Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
An instructive move from Villarreal.
They break with Moreno and Pino but as soon as the 18-year-old is in the final third no one is there to support him. Until the break, at least, they are more than happy to sit on this 1-0 lead.
08:44pm 42 mins Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
All but two Villarreal players are in their final third when United have the ball. Pogba is looking to play long balls to the flanks but the backline is deep enough to deal with anything he serves up and United are unable to get in behind the Spaniards.
08:42pm 39 mins Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
Villarreal are sat so deep – they’ve got the lead and are happy with how the match is going.
Cavani and Pogba link up well but the Spaniards are back in numbers and they snuff out the possible chance before it really had a chance to be created.
08:39pm 36 mins Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
We’re yet to see Rashford or Greenwood try to take their men on. For the most part everything has been in front of Villarreal. United need to take a risk in the Spaniards’ half.
08:38pm 35 mins Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
McTominay drives down the left – he’s done the hard part but rather than put the ball in the danger area he has a shot that goes into the stand.
08:35pm Dissect this defending
08:34pm 30 mins Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
There will be an inquest at half time in the United dressing room about how Moreno was able to score his 30th of the season.
From the left the free kick came in and Moreno got ahead of Lindelof and was unchallenged near the six-yard box as he glanced in the opener.
If you’re a Man Utd fan I apologise but I am about to state the obvious – they don’t look the same without Maguire in defence.
08:31pm GOOOOOOOAAAALLLLL!!! Villarreal 1-0 Man Utd
Moreno scores with his right getting on the end of that free kick.
08:30pm 28 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
It’s a bit of a scrappy match – that suits Villarreal far more than United.
The Spaniards have a free kick 40 yards out.
08:28pm 26 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
Villarreal are showing the same discipline that saw them beat Arsenal in the last four. Fernandes is trying to find some space with which he can affect the match.
The ball comes to the youngster Pino 25 yards out, and his shot goes wide. The 18-year-old has been lively so far.
08:25pm 23 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
Rashford tries his luck from distance – not a bad idea as the Villarreal keeper is yet to be tested. Tthe United man’s shot is well saved by Rulli.
08:24pm 21 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
Corner for Villarreal is defended well by United in the first instance but the secondary falls at the feet of Pino whose shot from the edge of the box is deflected for another corner.
From that set piece the ball eventually comes to Bacca and his rebona cross is cute but cannot be headed goalwards.
08:22pm 19 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
A ‘sort-of’ chance for United!
The ball comes out to Shaw on the edge of the area on the lefthand side, he fires in a low shot-cum-cross which Fernandes only just fails to get on the end of.
08:21pm 17 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
Early stat attack – United have ‘enjoyed’ 59 per cent of possession.
08:20pm 16 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
The Spaniards are reverting to a 4-5-1 when United have the ball and United are finding it tough to create anything that could be remotely considered a chance. Early days yet, but this could be a game of patience for Solskjaer’s side.
08:17pm 14 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
They play the set piece short before crossing to the back post where Trigueros volleys high and wide.
08:16pm 13 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
It’s still all United but Villarreal look happy to let them have the ball, sit very deep, and try their luck on the break.
They win a free kick in their own half but it relieves some of the pressure that was building up. They win another free kick, this time inside the United half. Can they make this count and put some pressure on the United backline?
The answer is ‘sort of’ as Pedraza wins a corner.
08:13pm 10 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
Continued pressure from United sees Greenwood collect a Pogba pass and win a corner.
From the set piece Pogba is offside (along with a couple of his team-mates).
08:12pm 8 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
United pressing Villarreal well here and the Spaniards cannot get out of their half. But as yet United haven’t created a clear cut chance.
Juan Foyth is down and looks like he’s cut himself or got blood coming from his nose. After a short break the game continues.
08:08pm 6 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
Villarreal are playing 4-4-2 and are very compact – happy to sit very deep. But United work the ball to the middle setting up McTominay for the shot, but his attempt is wide from 20 yards.
08:06pm 4 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
First bit of possession for United – they come down the left before going back. Pogba is in the middle playing it right then left but the Spaniards are sitting back and United are going nowhere while playing keep-ball.
08:04pm 2 mins: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
The Spaniards see all the ball in the opening exchanges. They keep the ball well and United will have to be as patient in defence.
08:01pm 1 min: Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd
We’re underway in Poland.
Both sides in their traditional kits (a rarity!) Villarreal in yellow and United in red.
08:00pm Bruno Fernandes does the coin toss
In the absence of usual skipper Maguire.
07:57pm The teams are about to walk onto the pitch
It’s nearly time for kick off!
07:53pm Rooney returns
Not on the pitch, obvs…
07:51pm I don’t salute magpies or avoid walking under ladders
But if you are superstitious and do and are a Man Utd fan , then May 26 is a good day.
It’s the birthday of the club’s first legendary manager Sir Matt Busby AND was the date United and a certain Ole Gunnar Solskjaer shocked Bayern Munich to win the 1999 Champions League final.
So is tonight’s result written in the stars?!
Of the significance of the date, Solskjaer said…
“It’s a special day for everyone at the club”
07:45pm Those teams again in black and white
VILLARREAL XI TO FACE MAN UTD: Rulli, Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Pedraza, Pino, Capoue, Parejo, Trigueros, Gerard, Bacca. Subs: Sergio Asenjo, Mario, Funes Mori, Raba, Estupinan, Alcacer, Moreno, Coquelin, Pena, Jaume, Moi Gomez, Nino.
MAN UTD XI TO FACE VILLARREAL: De Gea, Wan Bissaka, Bailly, Lindelof, Shaw, McTominay, Pogba, Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Greenwood, Cavani. Subs: Maguire, Mata, Grant, Fred, Diallo, James, Henderson, Alex Telles, Matic, Williams, van de Beek, Tuanzebe.
07:44pm Spain 9, England nul points
07:41pm Let’s go back in time…
…to 1990! Shell suits are a fire hazard and look hideous but are, for a reason I still cannot explain, all the rage. Maggie is still not for turning and a load of turtles are singing their way to number 1 in the charts having scoffed down a load of pizza…
Also slightly weird about that year was the fact that at the start of it Alex Ferguson – as he was then known – was under huge pressure to keep his job. After four years he’d won nothing at Old Trafford and his time, for many, was up.
Cue Mark Robins scoring a winner in the third round of the FA Cup at Nottingham Forest, a cup run and victory over Crystal Palace at Wembley in a replay that May. That trophy ushered in all the glory-laden years that were to follow and the knighthood that means Fergie is now more commonly know as SIR Alex Ferguson.
Win his first trophy as United boss tonight and could the same happen to (Sir) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?
READ: A first trophy for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could be like Sir Alex Ferguson winning the FA Cup in 1990
Where it all started for Fergie CREDIT: ACTION IMAGES
07:30pm Key battles that could decide the match
By Mike McGrath
Edinson Cavani v Raul Albiol
They have a combined age of 69 but these veterans could go some way to deciding where the trophy goes. Cavani makes a huge impact in matches whether starting or off the bench and the timing of his runs will stretch any defence. Albiol, 35, must get his positioning right but he also provides a goal threat, as he showed against Arsenal.
Bruno Fernandes v Daniel Parejo
Fernandes will look to impose himself on the game as United’s creative spark, sliding between Villarreal’s midfield and defence before getting shots away or setting up others. Parejo, 32, will fight for space in that midfield area. He has been an excellent signing after arriving on a free transfer at the start of the season.
Can Fernandes fire for United tonight? CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
Victor Lindelof v Gerard Moreno
Lindelof has an important role in United’s backline, regardless of whether Harry Maguire gets passed for the final. He will be at the heart of the defence and looking to keep Gerard quiet in the Spaniard’s final club game of a free-scoring season. The 29 year-old has broken through the 30-goal barrier for club and country.
07:25pm Solskjaer speaks…
On how he’s feeling…
“I feel good looking forward to it – I’m waiting for the boys to express themselves and show what they’re capable off.”
On starting De Gea over Henderson…
“He’s done really well and was great in the semi-finals – I expect him to be ready for this.”
On dropping Fred…
“Fred has been injured in the week coming up to the game, he was able to train last night and is good to start on the bench.”
On the message to his players…
“We have to trust ourselves, this is reward for the hard work of the past two years. Play with courage and confidence and be the best of yourselves.”
07:18pm We all know the Villarreal coach
And Unai Emery knows the Europa League well. The former Arsenal coach won this competition three years in a row with Sevilla The ‘Yellow Submarine’ (yes, that is their nickname) finished seventh in La Liga but unlike at the Emirates Emery is being backed and perceived to be doing well.
Of the starting lineup Gerard Moreno is the one United will have to keep a close eye on. Paco Alcacer, another attacking threat, is on the bench. Jeremy Pino, a highly rated 18-year-old, starts instead. Someone you’ll all (well, possibly) have heard of is ex-Watford midfielder Etienne Capoue, he starts in Gdansk.
VILLARREAL XI TO FACE MAN UTD: Rulli, Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Pedraza, Pino, Capoue, Parejo, Trigueros, Gerard, Bacca. Subs: Sergio Asenjo, Mario, Funes Mori, Raba, Estupinan, Alcacer, Moreno, Coquelin, Pena, Jaume, Moi Gomez, Nino.
07:07pm Before the footy, a bit of culture
Tonight’s match is taking place in one of Poland and Europe’s most beautiful cities (so I’ve been told). I’m a well travelled man but I’ve never had the pleasure of galavanting to Gdansk, but here are a few facts for you about tonight’s host (a side of culture to go with your sporting main course never hurt anyone…).
Gdansk is the capital and largest and most prominent city of Pomerania.
The city, like Poland, has a complex history, with periods of Polish, Prussian and German rule, along with periods of autonomy or self-rule as a free city state.
In the 1980s the city, which lies on the Baltic coast, was the birthplace of the Solidarity movement, which played a major role in bringing an end to communist rule in Poland.
That brief history lesson was brought to you with the help of Wikipedia and Google…
07:00pm Here be Villarreal
06:56pm Pogba will play in the role
He plays for France – he will need to be disciplined but he’s a brilliant player and it seems as if Solskjaer has backed his exciting front five – Cavani, Fernandes, Rashford, Greenwood and Pogba – to go win him the game. Whenever I have seen them United have always looked better when playing to their strength, which has always been taking the game to the opposition.
They’ll miss Maguire, but his absence from the starting lineup is no great shock. This could be a case of United saying we’ll score more than you – another 0-0? I would reckon not…
06:52pm United team news
De Gea starts in goal, Maguire is on the bench and it’s Bailly who will line up alongside Lindelof in the centre of defence. Rashford and Greenwood are both in, with Fred is on the bench.
So there is only one holding player with Pogba playing alongside McTominay in front of the backline.
That’s an attacking side – will it pay off?
06:45pm Man Utd have a good relationship with Europe (not a phrase you see much of these days)
Manchester United and Europe go together like the Glazers and unpopularity, Yorke and Cole, and Solskjaer and the words ‘has won it’.
This is their eighth European final and they’re looking for their sixth trophy.
1968 European Cup: beat Benfica 4-1 (aet)
1992 Cup Winners Cup: beat Barcelona 2-1
1999 Champions League: beat Bayern Munich 2-1
2008 Champions League: beat Chelsea 1-1 (won on pens)
2009 Champions League: lost to Barcelona 2-0
2011 Champions League: lost to Barcelona 3-1
2017 Europa League: beat Ajax 2-0
2021 Europa League: vs Villarreal – stay here to find out
‘And Solskjaer has won it!’ CREDIT: EMPICS SPORT
06:36pm Too bad even for Eurovision?
The Villareal fans are in ‘fine’ voice.
06:32pm Amber is the colour, football is the game
Poland is on the amber list of countries meaning all the Man Utd fans who are in Gdansk tonight will have to quarantine on their return to the UK.
Let’s hope for their sakes that United win as 10 days stuck at home might be tough much for some…
06:22pm Anyone looking forward to an open, free-flowing game packed with goals…
…look away now, because the omens aren’t good.
This will be the fifth time United and Villarreal have faced each other and the score on each (yes, every single one) previous occasion has been an underwhelming 0-0…
06:19pm Solskjaer’s selection questions
Earlier this week the United boss said he was undecided about his starting XI, admitting there were “two or three places” up for grabs.
Harry Maguire is off his crutches after an ankle injury but won’t (bar a last-minute miracle) play so it’s between Eric Bailly or Axel Tuanzebe to partner Victor Lindelof in defence.
Then the biggie is who will start in-between the sticks. The red-hot favourite is David De Gea, as reported by our man in Gdansk (no, this isn’t a Le Carre novel…) Mike McGrath. The Spaniard has been at Old Trafford for a decade now and his saves in the semi-final against AS Roma illustrated he’s still got the big-game mentality needed for night such as this.
We’re expecting the team news in 30 mins or so…
Strike a pose – David de Gea CREDIT: REUTERS
04:07pm A big night for Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
This past year has been a long one for most of us, but for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer those 12 months may well have seemed more like 24.
From last June’s Project Restart to today’s Europa League final there have been multiple verdicts dished out about the Manchester United manager.
Project Restart saw him guide United into the Champions League with an unbeaten run of 14 matches. He had, once again, quelled ideas he wasn’t up to the task and he was Super Ole.
After the two-minute break and the start of this season Super Ole quickly became Out-Of-His-Depth Ole. A 6-1 defeat to Tottenham, combined with defeats to Crystal Palace and Arsenal – all at home – left United languishing in 15th place. There were many calls for Solskjaer to be axed and he was, at various times, unfavourably compared to Frank Lampard, Jose Mourinho and Mikel Arteta. Of that trio two have since been sacked and regarding the one remaining no one would currently dare suggest that the Norwegian should look at Arsenal for tips on how to do his job.
Not soon after that harrowing start to the season United were bundled out of the Champions League by PSG and RB Leipzig. He was now reduced to being The Man Who Relegated Cardiff Ole, and the notion that Solskjaer was the man to finally lead United out of their post-Ferguson hangover was viewed as absurd as Spurs being part of the European elite.
Win tonight and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can keep smiling CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
But since the turn of the year the Norwegian, never one to try and dominate a scene, has quietly gone about his job, led United to a comfortable second-placed finish in the Premier League and tonight’s final. He is back to Doing A Good Job Ole.
But, as ever in football, there are still question marks hanging over Solskjaer and as the above illustrates you only need to have a bad 90 minutes for your competency to be once again be called into question.
Which is why tonight’s match is so important. Win that all-important first trophy as manager and Solskjaer will have something to show after the most trying of campaigns, silverware delivered for a club where success is the minimum expectation, and the satisfaction that, perhaps, questions over his ability to do the job will disappear for a while.
Our very own Mike McGrath has written a piece on what victory tonight may usher in for both the coach and club in the seasons ahead (more on that later). But in the short term it would add to the feel-good factor at Old Trafford (a place that desperately needs it) and momentum heading into the summer when it is hoped they can add to the squad in ways that make them viable and realistic challengers for the Premier League title next season.
So while the Europa League trophy isn’t the one that ideally Manchester United and Solskjaer would be challenging for, it is impossible to underestimate the importance of tonight’s match with Villarreal.