The end of a long, tumultuous club campaign is finally upon us as we enter European cup final week, starting with the Europa League.
Unai Emery’s Villarreal look to secure themselves Champions League qualification for next season when they take on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United, who are looking to earn their first trophy together with the former player at the helm.
Emery has won the competition three times previously, all with Sevilla, while he also made the final in 2019 as manager of Arsenal although they lost 4-1 to Chelsea. United on the other hand are reaching their first final in any competition since losing the FA Cup final to Chelsea in 2018 and will look to win their first trophy since winning the Europa League in 2017 under Jose Mourinho.
Villarreal made it to the final unbeaten in the competition throughout, winning 11 of their 14 games so far this season. They’ve showed some great attacking flair, scoring 27 goals but have also been able to shut up shop when necessary and defend well, conceding just eight times.
They were able to skip past Arsenal will relative ease in the semi-finals, winning the home tie before keeping a clean sheet in a goalless draw at the Emirates to secure their path to Gdansk, with Emery switching up his approach for each game.
Manchester United only entered the tournament at the knockout stages after crashing out of the Champions League before Christmas. They’ve had a pretty tough run of it too, but were able to comfortably navigate their way to the final with aggregate wins over Real Sociedad, AC Milan, Granada and Roma.
United have scored 18 times in the Europa League this season in just eight games, and had conceded just once before the semi-final affair with Roma which saw them win 8-5 on aggregate.
They’ve been the favourites since dropping down into the tournament and have lived up to that tag well, controlling all the ties they’ve been part of for the vast majority of the time on the pitch.
Solskjaer’s side essentially picks itself at the moment. Harry Maguire’s injury is the biggest question mark, because if he is unavailable then the decision must be made about whether to start the more experienced Eric Bailly or the in-form Axel Tuanzebe alongside Victor Lindelof.
It seems almost certain that he’ll continue with his favoured McFred combination in midfield, which means Paul Pogba will start in one of the wide positions again. Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes are almost sure to start, which means the final spot comes down to whether Mason Greenwood or Edinson Cavani will start up front – with my money going on ‘El Matador’.
Emery’s team selection is a bit more fluid, depending on what type of approach he chooses to take. Winger Samuel Chukwueze is expected to be fit enough to at least be on the bench but whether the manager chooses to go with a more defensive approach could decide the rest of his midfield.
He’s likely to opt to sit back and force United to try and break them down, something they have notoriously struggled with under Ole’s tenure at the club.
With that said though, Solskjaer has managed to build the strongest team that United have had since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and they’re best placed to win the competition. They have the better individual players, are in better form and even without Maguire they should be good enough to hold strong defensively.
It will likely be a very cagey affair, with not many goals unless someone can score early on. But I can’t see past Manchester United getting the victory with the added quality they have and it’ll likely be that man Fernandes to pop up with the winner.
Villarreal 0-1 Manchester United
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