Villarreal’s Champions League fairytale has exposed Manchester United failings – Casey Evans

Nearly 11 months ago, Manchester United faced Villarreal in the Europa League final in what was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first final with the club and his best opportunity to win a trophy. The game was long and turgid, going into extra time and then penalties, with neither team really wanting to lose rather than having a desire to win.

But the night ended in heartbreak, all outfield players scored their penalties and so the goalkeepers had to reverse their roles and step up to the sport. Geronimo Rulli scored his penalty; David de Gea did not.

Many fans and football experts talk about how winning a trophy is incredibly important to a team’s mentality, it can become the driving force that bonds a team and inspires them to win more. United fans will unfortunately remember this being the case with Liverpool, who won the Champions League and then went on to win their first Premier League title.

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For Villareal, this seems to be the spark that has ignited them under Unai Emery. They had struggled during the 2020/21 season and were set to miss out on the Champions League — but winning the Europa League guaranteed their place in this season’s competition.

And now having beaten Bayern Munich, after knocking out Juventus, Emery and his team are in the semi-final of the Champions League and are set to face Liverpool for a place in the final. Meanwhile, United, who lost the final, have gone very much in the opposite direction.

The Europa League final was seen as the culmination of everything Solskjaer had done to that point at Unite. Alongside a second-placed finish in the Premier League, it could have hopefully acted as a launching point for the team to begin and challenge Manchester City and Liverpool for the title.

It can be argued that the loss and the mental effect of that has had the opposite effect on United. The team that had consistently fought back to win in games in the 2020/21 season and battled tooth and nail to get to the Europa League final seems to have faded; left instead is a team that lacks ideas and direction.

Solskjaer was sacked in November and interim manager Ralf Rangnick has not fared any better. The collapse of this United side has been catastrophic with losses to Watford and Everton who are fighting relegation being some of the low points of the season, alongside embarrassing losses to City and Liverpool.

Pau Torres celebrates winning the Europa League with Villarreal

United will now likely miss out on a Champions League place next season, with a place in the Europa or UEFA Conference League not even guaranteed and incoming boss Erik ten Hag will have a lot of work to do to rebuild the team again after Solskjaer’s good work was undone.

Regardless of how the Europa League final went nearly a year ago, United fans will be hoping that Villarreal can overcome Liverpool in the Champions League in the semi-finals (unless Benfica can come back and do the job earlier in tonight’s second leg). It will sting, however, that United are not in a position to do such damage to Liverpool themselves.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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