Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli scored the decisive spot-kick and saved his counterpart David de Gea’s attempt as the Yellow Submarine claimed its first major title by beating Manchester United 11-10 on penalties following a 1-1 draw in the Europa League final in Gdansk, Poland.
This was a disappointing contest lacking in quality that produced only three shots on target across 120 minutes – but there was no shortage of drama with the penalty shootout.
All 20 outfield players converted their penalties in the longest shootout in a final of any UEFA competition, and finally, after an incredibly tense shootout, Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli blasted home his effort and then denied De Gea, who looked broken right at the end.
It gave Villarreal their first major trophy in history and saw former Arsenal boss Unai Emery lift the Europa League for an unprecedented fourth time.
However, on the anniversary of both Sir Matt Busby’s birth and the epic Champions League final in 1999 that earned Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hero status among the Old Trafford faithful, there was to be no new 26th May landmark as United completed a fourth year without silverware.
This has been the longest time that United have gone trophyless in 32 years!
United simply did not do enough, despite the massive gulf between the two sides coming into the game. It just seemed that Villarreal came into the game at 1-1 thinking of taking it to penalties.
Solskjaer’s side did not start well and fell behind to a soft goal from Gerard Moreno after United’s backline fell asleep once again and could not cope with a deep free-kick. Victor Lindelof could not close to Moreno’s space and the in-form Spaniard ended up scoring his 7th goal of the competition.
Edinson Cavani brought United level after 55 minutes after a Marcus Rashford shot had been deflected into his path, but the Red Devils failed to kick on from there, which was incredibly surprising given what we have seen from Solskjaer’s side this season.
Solskjaer did not make a change to the lineup in the 90 minutes but introduced Juan Mata and Alex Telles purely to take penalties in the shootout.
De Gea had failed to save any of the 11 penalties he had faced, and Solskjaer may have been left wondering if he should have followed the example of former United boss Louis van Gaal, who famously brought on Tim Krul purely for a penalty shootout at the 2014 FIFA World Cup for the Netherlands. The Dutch went on to win that shootout thanks to some terrific goalkeeping by Krul.
Villarreal are the first side to win in their first appearance in a major European final since Shakhtar Donetsk in the 2008-09 UEFA Cup.
Manchester United have lost six of their last seven penalty shootouts in all competitions, only winning against Rochdale in the League Cup in September 2019 in that time.
Bruno Fernandes failed to influence the game in what was a very poor performance by his standards. Paul Pogba looked good in the first half but was unable to influence the game in the second.
Mason Greenwood and Cavani were United’s only good players in attack as Rashford had a day to forget. Scott McTominay was the standout player who was trying to make things happen and if not for his lack of creative ability, United may have had the second goal they desired.
This game perfectly highlighted that there are many holes to still be filled in this United squad. It showed that McTominay would be a perfect squad player and although he has the determination to put in a shift, he cannot influence the game like many central defensive midfielders do.
The defensive lapses and shaky performance by Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, clearly highlighted how much United missed captain Harry Maguire and how desperately they need another centre-back to come in.
Villarreal centreback Pau Torres may have just made a strong case to be that person to join Manchester United next season after a terrific performance.
Manchester United need a few players to come in to have any chance of winning silverware next season and Solskjaer is hopeful for a number of players to join the ranks so it remains to be seen how they line-up next season.