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|Match Result and Both Teams to Score||Odds|
|Villarreal and Yes||+775
|Villarreal and No||+660
|Manchester United and Yes||+310
|Manchester United and No||+185
|The Red Devils still have defensive concerns, but their attacking firepower should see them triumph in Gdansk|
|Villarreal vs Manchester United Information|
|Teams||Villarreal vs Manchester United|
|Location||Stadion Miejski, Gdansk, Poland|
|Time||Wednesday, 26 May 2021, 15.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
At the start of the season, Manchester United had no intention of competing in the Europa League final in May. Their sights were set much higher, with a run deep into the Champions League their target in continental competition. However, a third-place finish in the group phase – behind Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig – sent United into Europe’s junior tournament. At that stage of the season, Solskjaer’s job was rumored to be under threat.
The Norwegian has turned things around since then. United stuttered over the line in the Premier League, notwithstanding a final-day victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, but this is only their second top-two finish since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. Ultimately, a club like United will want to be winning the Premier League and the Champions League, but a second-place finish and a Europa League triumph would be signs of progress.
The Red Devils have also negotiated the knockout phase of the Europa League extremely well. Real Sociedad were thrashed in the round of 32, before United edged out a good AC Milan team to reach the quarter-finals. Granada was brushed aside with 2-0 wins home and away, after which United eviscerated Roma in the semi-finals. There is no doubt that the English giants are the favorites to come out on top on Wednesday.
Solskjaer played down the importance of silverware earlier this season, but a man steeped in United’s traditions will surely understand that his tenure will be defined by trophies above all else. Winning his first as United manager would further cement the idea that the previously under-fire Norwegian is the right man for the job after all.
Villarreal are, in many ways, the polar opposite of United. Whereas their upcoming opponents have won three different European tournaments (the Champions League, Europa League and now-defunct Cup Winners’ Cup), Villarreal have never lifted a major in their history – either on the continent or domestically. Wednesday’s game, then, is arguably the biggest since the club was founded in 1923.
Villarreal have been regulars in the Europa League in recent years, with 2020/21 being the sixth campaign of the last seven in which they have reached the knockout rounds. The Yellow Submarine reached the quarter-finals in 2018/19 and the semi-finals in 2015/16, but this will be their first taste of a European final.
Hiring Unai Emery was always going to boost their chances of continental success. The former Sevilla head coach has won this tournament three times, a record that no other manager can better. Emery knows what it takes to go all the way in the Europa League, and he has guided Villarreal to the final in impressive fashion: his side beat Red Bull Salzburg, Dynamo Kyiv and Dinamo Zagreb home and away, before negotiating a tricky semi-final against Arsenal, Emery’s former employers.
Villarreal are clearly underdogs – they only managed a seventh-place finish in La Liga – but in a one-off game they should not be written off. Emery will have his team well-drilled and well organized, and the concession of only three goals in eight knockout phase games evidences a solid backline.
Solskjaer named a weakened starting XI for the aforementioned win against Wolves on Sunday, and we can expect the big names to return in Gdansk. United will probably be without their captain Harry Maguire, however. Solskjaer has not ruled out the England international being fit, but it is difficult to envisage him being anywhere close to 100 percent after his recent ankle injury.
That is a blow to United, whose defensive vulnerabilities have been exposed in Maguire’s absence of late. It is also a boost to Villarreal, who will fancy their chances of finding the net if United’s skipper does indeed miss out. Emery is not exactly known as a coach who preaches free-flowing soccer, but his team has only failed to score in one of their 13 European outings this term.
At the same time, Villarreal face the tricky task of containing a United attack that is difficult to stop when everything clicks into place. A front five of Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Marcus Greenwood does not have many superiors in the whole of Europe. United are ruthless on the counter-attack, and they could pick their opponents off if Villarreal concedes the first goal and are then forced to step up the pitch.
Champions League finals are often cagey affairs, but Europa League finals tend to be more open. Last season’s showpiece featured five goals, while there were the same number in 2019, three in 2018, two in 2016, four in 2017 and five in 2015. That represents an average of four per final in the last six years.
That, together with United’s combination of potential defensive weakness and effective attack, means you should back the Red Devils to win and both teams to score.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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