Manchester United will contend the UEFA Europa League with Villarreal at the Stadion Energa Gdańsk in Gdańsk, Poland on Wednesday evening. It is the second time that United have participated in the final of the competition in four years. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has previously seen his side stutter in the semi-finals of cup competitions, seeing his side lose four of them before they knocked AS Roma out of the competition with a 8-5 aggregate victory earlier in the month. Villarreal have reached the final of the competition for the first time in the history of the club. Five English clubs have won this cup with four Spanish teams winning.
This match comes after a long and hard season for both teams. United finished second in the Premier League, exited the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, which is where they entered the Europa League, also reaching the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup and the quarter-finals of the Emirates FA Cup. Villarreal finished seventh in La Liga this season, putting them into the new UEFA Europa Conference League play-offs. They started in the group stages in the competition this season, playing 14 matches so far and are undefeated so far, winning 12 matches and drawing twice. They also reached the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey.
How United have faired against Villarreal in European competition.
Manchester United and Villarreal have met four times in European competition. All of the meetings have been in the UEFA Champions League in the group stage with the two clubs meeting in the 2005/06 season and the 2008/09 season. Neither team have won any of the matches with neither team scoring a single goal with four 0-0 draws the result between the two clubs. I makes the UEFA Europa League final even more unknown as both teams will be seeking to be the victors for the first time. Both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Unai Emery will be determined to be the first manager of their respective clubs to win for the first time.
This season in the Europa League, United have faced two Spanish teams; Real Sociedad in which they won 4-0 inn the first leg, which was played at the Juventus Stadium in Turin with Bruno Fernandes scoring a brace, plus goals from Marcus Rashford and Daniel James. The second leg was a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. United then met Granada inn the quarter-finals, winning 2-0 in both legs (4-0 on aggregate) with Rashford and Fernandes scoring in the first leg and Edinson Cavani and an own goal from Jesús Vallejo. Villarreal will be the third Spanish team United will have faced in the Europa League this season.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Villarreal in the UEFA Europa League final at the Stadion Energa Gdańsk on Wednesday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea is the likely starter against Villarreal on Wednesday evening as the two teams contest the UEFA Europa League for the 2020/21 season. The Spanish number one has played in both the quarter-final and semi-final against Granada and AS Roma with Dean Henderson playing the majority of the matches prior to those. Henderson played in the final Premier League match of the season on Sunday, leaving De Gea fresh for this match, despite the fact that Solskjaer has not been keen on giving anything away regarding his XI until he is obliged to. De Gea has been back in good form recently which could give him the edge over Henderson, who is the future of the club with De Gea’s time seemingly coming to an end. That has not been confirmed by the player, the manager or the club, so is just rumour at this time, but it will have to happen at some point.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Axel Tuanzebe, Luke Shaw
United’s defence has been both a problem and a saviour at times this season but there is no bigger problem than whether Harry Maguire will play on Wednesday evening. He’s walking without a protective boot or crutches but running is a bigger step. Unless Solskjaer is playing mind games, it would suggest that he will be out for this match, or on the bench if he’s fit enough for that. In which case, Axel Tuanzebe, who performed excellently on Sunday could step in for him. He would be partnered with Victor Lindelof, although he played well with Eric Bailly on Sunday too. In the fullback positions, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw will play this match, both rested from Sunday’s match, having just over a week to prepare for this match. This is the biggest game for United this season and carries the reward of the first trophy of Solskjaer’s era at the club.
Midfield: Donny van de Beek, Scott McTominay
The midfield is where the problems lie for United. Watching Nemanja Matic against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday saw him do the job of both Scott McTominay and Fred by himself, which is obviously what Solskjaer would like, and be able to play a more attack minded partner to link up the defence with the attack and move forward to create themselves also. Donny van de Beek played a good game on Sunday and I think he has done enough, at least for me, so put him into contention to start in Gdańsk. McTominay could partner him and he could take the role of the defensive player, as long as he’s up for the challenge, as there will be a challenge for him in this match. Fred has been dire this season and it’s hard to see him fitting into this squad for much longer. The easiest tasks seem impossible for him at times.
Attacking Midfield: Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba
Bruno Fernandes has 28 goals and 18 assists to his name in all competitions this season, which is a great return for a midfielder and something that United have been lacking in for years now. What he offers this club is magnificent and everyone will be thankful for him being at the club. Talks of a new contract are just deserved for the Portuguese magnifico. Mason Greenwood has been playing in different roles this season by has 12 goals and six assists in all competitions, which is also a great return from the teenager. Playing on the right-wing is more for him, not Marcus Rashford, whose form has suffered in recent weeks. Paul Pogba has been playing on the left-wing recently but his contribution has waned in this area but there is no reason why it might now work on Wednesday. He has offered six goals and seven assists in all competitions this season.
Forwards: Edinson Cavani
Edinson Cavani is the striker in form at this stage of the season, which is great to see. He has 16 goals and five assists to his name and he will be seeking to add to that against Villarreal to ensure that United head home from Gdańsk with a trophy – Solskjaer’s first of him time managing United. Cavani knows how to get himself into good positions and also create space for other players to get into those positions and score. He also has a very lethal header, which has been shown at stages this season, especially over the past six weeks or so. The Uruguayan has signed a one-year extension at United, which is a good sign for the club and as his season was late to develop, having not played for PSG for a while before he left, the COVID period of isolation then injury and fatigue, next season will be big for him, especially having a full pre-season under his belt.
Substitutes: Lee Grant, Dean Henderson, Nathan Bishop; Eric Bailly, Harry Maguire, Brandon Williams, Alex Telles; Juan Mata, Fred, Amad Diallo, Daniel James, Nemanja Matic, Shola Shoretire; Marcus Rashford, Anthony Elanga
Solskjaer named a 26-man squad for this match which includes four goalkeepers, which will probably see one or two removed from the match day squad. Harry Maguire was also included, giving him every chance to be fit for the match, which looks unlikely at this time. I have named a 15-man bench but three will probably not make it. Lee Grant, Dean Henderson and Nathan Bishop are the goalkeepers that could feature on the bench. In defence, Eric Bailly, Maguire if he does not start or has enough for a cameo in the game, Brandon Williams, and Alex Telles could be called upon. In midfield, Juan Mata, Fred, Amad Diallo, Daniel James, Nemanja Matic and Shola Shoretire could be available. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga will be the attackers on the bench. Five substitutions can be used in the final in three instances during the match, plus the half time break.
Written by John Walker