Gdansk was the scene for Villarreal’s most famous night. Never before had the small club from eastern Spain reached a final, let alone won a trophy, but with the guidance of Unai Emery they are now Europa League winners.
What’s more, this triumph came over Manchester United. It was an arduous 120 minutes comprising regulation-time, extra-time and a 22-kick penalty shoot-out but Villarreal managed to emerge on the right side as the night came to a close. There were only three shots on target throughout the game but it was David De Gea’s missed penalty which presented Villarreal with the historic win.
These Villarreal players will go down in history. As will their manager, Emery, who has now claimed this trophy four times. Seemingly, everything he touches turns to Europa Leagues. It also means that they will be in next season’s Champions League which is invaluable. Spanish clubs have now won every one of the last 16 European finals, which weren’t played against fellow Spanish sides.
As for United, this was bitterly disappointing. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s search for his first trophy as manager continues and focus will shift to the depth of his squad. This was a frustrating night in which they had to quarry possession and find a way past a stubborn defence. When a moment of invention or brilliance was needed it was not forthcoming - much to the liking of Villarreal.
Story of the game
As expected, Harry Maguire was only able to take a consolatory place on the substitutes bench for United as he recovers from ankle ligament damage. Eric Bailly partnered Victor Lindelof in the heart of the defence with De Gea starting in goal. Also Marcus Rashford was given his favoured berth on the left of the attack with Paul Pogba being deployed in a deeper midfielder role.
Villarreal were able to welcome full-back Juan Foyth back into the lineup after six games out but Samuel Chukwueze, their influential winger, missed out through injury. Emery’s team, however, were unable to get out for much of the opening stages such was United’s pressure.
Scott McTominay had the first sighter at goal with a shot which he dragged wide of Geronimo Rulli’s left-hand post. Luke Shaw’s low drilled ball into the Villarreal area was too hard for anyone in front of the ‘keeper to control or even divert goalwards. Rashford, meanwhile, took aim from distance but was easily claimed.
It was hard labour for United as they toiled in an attempt to break down a Villarreal team who were compact and preventing Solskjaer’s team from finding space in the final third; Bruno Fernandes was noticeable through his anonymity. Eighteen-year-old Jeremi Pino, who became the youngest ever Spaniard to play in a European final, was the most lively for the Yellow Submarine with two shots off target.
However, it only takes one set-piece to inflict damage on United and that’s what Villarreal got when Edinson Cavani fouled and gave away a free-kick on 29 minutes. Dani Parejo, one of the world’s best with the dead-ball, flighted a lovely right-footed delivery from the inside-left channel, United’s defending was lax and Moreno was able to pull away from Lindelof and score his 30th goal of the campaign.
The smash-and-grab nature will not have concerned Emery, and his side continued in a similar fashion. United continued on the front foot and almost managed an equaliser before the break when Mason Greenwood advanced down the line and swung in a cross which almost deflected in off Raul Albiol.
Barring a nervy scramble in front of De Gea’s goals at the start of the second half, United continued in their search for an equaliser. It arrived on 55 minutes and through expected means. Shaw’s out-swinging corner was only partially headed out by Villarreal and the ball was sent back in over the top. Cavani remained onside and was on hand to stab the ball past Rulli.
The tetchy nature of the final continued with the scores level. Emery’s team lacked pace to counter but also appeared to start to tire in their defensive work. Rashford spurned a glorious chance from a few yards out when he bundled an attempt wide from a Fernandes cross. Cavani’s goal-bound header was stopped by Pau Torres before any intervention from Rulli was required.
Normal time eked out with Villarreal seemingly hanging on for penalties let alone extra time. That said, Torres did fire a tired shot from the edge of the United area but the attempt was always rising. Extra time was always going to be an even greater war of attrition for both sides.
Solskjaer decided to only make his first substitution in the 10th minute of additional time and may have made it on the back of Villarreal finding gaps in United to exploit in attack with Alberto Moreno slicing one effort wide at the near post.
Although the pace of the game had long since dropped, by this stage the chances had dried up too. Lindelof almost gifted Villarreal the lead once more with a sloppy pass in his own area but neither Moreno nor Paco Alcacer could take advantage.
So penalties were required to separate these weary Europa League finalists. Well, they were supposed to; it took 21 kicks between them before someone missed. All outfield players converted theirs, some more confident than others, but it was at the goalkeeper stage where Villarreal pulled away.
Rulli, who had the chance to stop at least two of United’s kicks, scored high into the net. Then De Gea, the final player to take to the spot, saw his low penalty saved by his opposite number. A forgettable match brought an unforgettable evening for Villarreal, whose celebrations continued long into the night.
Villarreal: Rulli; Foyth (Gaspar 88), Albiol, Torres, Pedraza (A Moreno 88); Pino (Alcacer 77), Capoue (Raba 123), Parejo, Trigueros (Gomez 77); G Moreno, Bacca (Coquelin 60).
Subs (not used): Asenjo, Estupinan, Pena, Funes Mori, Costa, Nino.
Man Utd: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka (Telles 123), Bailly (Tuanzebe 115), Lindelof, Shaw; McTominay (Mata 123), Pogba (James 115); Greenwood (Fred 100), Fernandes, Rashford; Cavani.
Subs (not used): Henderson, Grant, Williams, Maguire, van de Beek, Matic, Diallo.
Referee: Clement Turpin (France).