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Europa League Preview: Villarreal vs Manchester United

Villarreal vs Manchester United | Europa League final | Stadion Energa Gdańsk | KO 20:00 GMT | BT Sport

There has been much discussion over whether Manchester United’s season has been and should be considered a successful one. Granted, a second-place finish shouldn’t be deemed a success at Old Trafford but definite progress has been made. However, the finest test of how far this team has come will be the Europa League final.

Unai Emery’s Villarreal will meet United in Gdańsk looking to stop the Reds from claiming their first trophy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

How do Manchester United look?

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United’s final league fixture vs Wolves saw much rotation. The usual “big-guns” that we’ve been so used to seeing, were rested meaning the likes of Anthony Elanga, Amad Diallo and even Donny van de Beek could get some minutes.

As United’s opponents had a day extra rest by playing on Saturday, while United played on Sunday, Solskjaer was right to rotate. Some would call it genius as the side he did field made a good account of themselves at a notoriously difficult travel destination for United.

The huge question mark that is hanging over the Reds is the availability of Harry Maguire. Solskjaer hinted that he would travel and continue to be assessed last minute before the game. It’s unclear whether he could make an appearance in the starting lineup, especially as the centre back was named in England’s 33-man provisional squad for the Euros.

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Should United’s captain fail to prove his fitness in the build-up to the game, Axel Tuanzebe who has played in Maguire’s absent left-sided centre-back spot could actually be the most likely to step in. The hopes of Tuanzebe start are foiled by the fact that Villarreal are Bailly’s former employers, and so for romantic reasons could start alongside Victor Lindelof who is a shoo-in at centreback.

Dean Henderson starting against Wolves could mean that David de Gea finds himself in goal after his heroics in Rome ensured United’s passage to the final. Meanwhile, Anthony Martial has not travelled due to his injury.

Opposition: Villarreal

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Unai Emery will do everything in his power to ensure his side in yellow have a “Good Ebening” in Gdańsk. The Spaniard has an honest chip in his shoulder after his failure in England. Emery did manage to progress past his former club Arsenal but to be the victor in the competition will really be the two fingers up to English football he’s looking for.

Despite not achieving in England, his record in the Europa League speaks for itself. His time in Seville saw him lift the trophy on three occasions, in consecutive years between 2013 and 2016.

The way Emery approached the Arsenal game hints at what he’s about as a manager. He ensures clinical starts with very little dominance, then when his side were two to the good, applying the defensive blocks. United must be wary of this.

Key Stats

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Manchester United have faced Villarreal the most times without ever scoring more than any other opponent in the club’s history, having tried on five occasions.

The 2021 Europa League final will be Manchester United’s eighth major European final, second to Liverpool who boast 14.

Villarreal are unbeaten in this season’s Europa League winning 12 and drawing twice.

Prediction

United have got to over the mark to signal the improvement that Solskjaer has ultimately made. This is why they will win 2-0.

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