Europa League Final Preview: Villarreal vs Manchester United

Villarreal will be playing in their first ever European final tonight as they take on English giants Manchester United in the Europa League.

The game, played in Gdańsk, Poland, is sure to be a memorable one for Unai Emery’s side as they seek to end his fantastic debut season at the helm with a trophy.

The run to the final

In order to reach tonight’s match, the Yellow Submarine defeated Red Bull Salzberg, Dynamo Kiev, Dinamo Zagreb and Arsenal in the knockout stages.

Manchester United meanwhile defeated Real Sociedad, AC Milan, Granada and Roma, although the English side are in the competition by virtue of their third-place finish in the Champions League group stage.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men go into the match knowing they finished second in the Premier League and that they have their Champions League place for next season, unlike their opponents.

Indeed, Villarreal are currently going to be playing in the inaugural UEFA Conference League next season as they finished 7th in LaLiga, but a win tonight would catapult them into next season’s Champions League.

The prospect of a return to the Europe’s premier competition for the first time since the 2016/17 season, where they lost in the qualifying play-off against Monaco, gives the Spanish side that extra sense of motivation.

Added to this is the fact that, whilst the Yellow Submarine have come close to European success in the past, they have always failed at the final few hurdles.

Villarreal have managed to lose three Europa League/UEFA Cup semi-finals since 2003 and a Champions league semi-final against eventual runners up Arsenal in 2006.

They will be hoping to set the record straight tonight.

Head to Head

Unfortunately, the head to head between these two sides does not make good reading for tonight.

The two sides met in both the 2005/06 and 2008/09 Champions League group stages and all four matches were 0-0 draws.

We can only hope that history does not repeat itself this evening.

Their seasons

Manchester United and Villarreal have a similar defensive record this season.

Curiously, they have both conceded the same number of goals (44) over their 38-league domestic season, although they have had slightly different fortunes.

Unai Emery’s side have, as aforementioned, finished 7th in this season’s LaLiga.

Manchester United meanwhile were runners up in the Premier League, only behind Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

Both sides have been inconsistent at times but they know they have the quality and technical ability to make tonight’s match a spectacle for the neutral.

Key players

Pau Torres, reportedly wanted by Manchester United and Real Madrid, has had his fine performances this season rewarded with a place in the Spanish squad. Torres may well be paired tonight with the experienced Raul Albiol at centre-back.

Gerard Moreno, the second top goal-scorer in La Liga with 23 goals, has also been called up by Luis Enrique ahead of the European Championships. He will be a threat.

Club captain Dani Parejo was signed cheaply from rivals Valencia in the summer (alongside Francis Coquelin) and shot stopper Sergio Asenjo and midfield maestro Manu Trigueros may also have a key role to play in tonight’s game.

Manchester United, on the other hand, count upon Bruno Fernandes as their star player. The Portuguese playmaker has been at the heart of everything good about Manchester United this season.

Edinson Cavani has also chipped in with important goals whilst Paul Pogba is a similar match-winner with an ability to put in a world-class performance when he is on form.

The red devils will have to address the loss of Harry Maguire, knowing that they will need to defend better than the Europa League semi-final last year when Sevilla knocked them out on the way to victory.

The final

It’s clear that both sides are motivated to win the match tonight. Manchester United have won but a few trophies since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, and it would be a positive way to cap their season.

For Villarreal, it would be the first European trophy and the culmination of all the hard work the club have put in over the last 20 years.

It would also give them a Champions League spot for next season.

With the quality of Gerard Moreno, Manu Trigueros, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, it should be a very interesting game.

Let’s hope it isn’t a fifth 0-0 draw between the sides in a row.

James Felton

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