The history is behind it, the records are before it, and we anticipate the emotions amidst it, this is one for the history books! We travel to Gdańsk, Poland for one of the biggest nights in European football.
Villarreal and Manchester United have locked horns four times in the past, all in the Champions League, and every single time it has finished 0-0. Every player, coach, pundit, and football fan are thinking, surely, I mean surely, United have to take the win. The Red Devils possess the likes of Edinson Cavani, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, and David de Gea. At the start of the whistle, this is a cup final, the ball is round, the players are hungry, and we have witnessed bigger upsets in cup final history.
History will be made and can be made in more ways than one. Robin van Persie became the youngest winner, with Feyenoord, in the competition at age 18 years and 275 days, and the only eligible player to break that record will be Villarreal’s Yeremy Pino, (age on final day 18 years and 218 days) who has played 8 games and scored one goal in this campaign.
There are a number of players who could become the youngest scorer in a Europa League final, but the most favourable player to do so would be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Mason Greenwood, who on the final day will be 19 years and 237 days old, beating Vagner Love’s record for CSKA Moscow at age 20 years and 341 days.
It’s time, for the beautiful game to manifest itself in a European football final.
To Win Match (90 Mins)
Manchester United 8/10
The biggest running storyline in the Spanish camp is Villarreal’s Unai Emery. Unai is on target to become the most successful UEFA Europa League coach of all time with three victories under his belt to date. In addition, he could secure Villarreal’s first-ever major trophy in their 98-year history. The Europa League mastermind won back-to-back, to back, trophies with Spanish side Sevilla in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and came close to his fourth with ex-club, Arsenal, when they faced London rivals Chelsea in the 2019 Baku final.
The stage was set for his revenge over Arsenal, after getting the boot from the north London club and the Europa League maestro outclassed his replacement, Mikel Arteta. The fight for Champions League came to an end for Villarreal with the 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the last La Liga fixture, and a win over Manchester United will secure a spot in the Europe’s Elite competition.
The Yellow Submarine’s road to the final has been goal outstanding and without blemish. Emery’s men have won 12 of their 14 fixtures, drawing two and only failing to score in just one, against Arsenal at the Emirates. Their biggest win was their opening match at home in a 5-3 win over Turkish outfit, Sivasspor in which both Carlos Bacca and Paco Alcalcer both found the back of the net.
Two of Villarreal’s strikers, Gerard Moreno and Paco Alcacer are both on six goals each and could grab the golden boot award should they find success twice in the final, but Emery has a tough call to make over who to partner with Moreno. Will the boss go with tried and tested Bacca who was given his chance to prove himself against Real Madrid, or the in-form Alcacer, who has netted six in his nine Europa League matches? The Columbian national helped Sevilla and Unai to their 2015 title scoring two superb goals in Warsaw, Poland against Dnipro.
Now 34, he could tie Radamel Falcao’s three goals in a Europa League final, as he travels back to Poland as if it were destiny and become just the sixth player to do so. The Villarreal boss has not ruled out Nigerian right-winger, Samuel Chukwueze, who has missed their last four matches due to a hamstring injury.
Tottenham Hotspur loanee, Juan Foyth, will be undergoing a late fitness test after sustaining an injury in the tie against Arsenal. Etienne Capoue is back from suspension and will more than likely put Francis Coquelin back on the bench to partner with Dani Parejo.
Under Jose Mourinho, Manchester United halted Unai’s hot streak of three successive Europa League victories. Paul Pogba opened the scoring when United beat young star-studded Ajax by two goals to nil to win their first-ever Europa League title. Last season’s defeat to Sevilla in the semi-final cut deep for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players with the Red Devils paying a heavy price for their complacency and have since proved the correction of those errors, as magnificently displayed in the first leg demolition of AS Roma. The 13-goal total, 8-5 aggregate win over AS Roma went down in the history books as the highest-scoring knock-out stage score-line in the Europa League.
The Red Devils have without question been the favourites to take the trophy this year since shamefully dropping out of the Champions League. The Manchester outfit could now follow the same path as rivals Chelsea, who became the first and only English side to win the Europa League after transferring out of Europe’s elite competition. The Manchester United fans will be 2,000+ strong and howling under Gdansk’s bright lights, with Ole present in his first-ever final as United manager.
With more than one eye on the Gdansk final, Ole placed faith in the United young blood against Wolverhampton Wanderers where they crashed Nuno Espirito’s farewell party at Molineux with a 2-1 victory. Manchester United have made steady progress under the Norwegian boss, and a trophy to seal the deal will be what is needed to cement his position at arguably the world’s “biggest” club.
The long-term injuries remain with Anthony Martial, Daniel James and Phil Jones still out on the side-line. Key centre-back Harry Maguire has played every minute of every league game since his arrival at Old Trafford in the summer of 2019 but was forced off at Aston Villa with an injury. Now Ole has all but confirmed that centre-back stalwart will be set to miss the club’s penultimate game of the season despite the captain wanting to start.
Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof are the most likely paring to start in the backline. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw will echo their roles in the starting line-up after being rested against Wolves. With Maguire a likely miss, two defensive midfielders are on the cards with Fred and Scot McTominay to ensure stability.
One of four players in contention from United’s last Europa League victory, Paul Pogba, is a certainty in the final, and the Frenchman will start alongside Portuguese maestro Bruno Fernandes and United bred, Marcus Rashford, in the creative area of the midfield. Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani are both gunning for the chance to be at the top of the field, but experience will almost certainly prevail in this match-up and the veteran Uruguayan will get the nod.
Verdict: Draw 2/1
This isn’t as cut-and-dry as many would have you believe. Villarreal are a good side and will look to capitalise on United’s tendency to start slowly. A 90-minute draw screams value in what could be cagey affair.