Villarreal 1 - 1 Man United (11-10 on pens) | Europa League Final | 26.05.21

Unai Emery worked his Europa league magic once again to upset Manchester United and claim Villarreal's first European trophy, the Spanish manager's 4th Europa League title.

Villarreal 1 - 1 Man United (11-10 on pens) | Europa League Final | 26.05.21

Unai Emery worked his Europa league magic once again to upset Manchester United and claim Villarreal's first European trophy, the Spanish manager's 4th Europa League title. In front of 10,000 fans in Gdansk, Villarreal stifled United's attacking potency throughout to triumph in a marathon penalty shootout. Gerard Moreno and Edinson Cavani were the goalscorers in regular time before the final was settled after Villarreal's keeper, Rulli, saved de Gea's penalty in the shootout - yes, you read that correctly. It finished 1-1 after extra time, 11-10 on penalties.

Unsurprisingly, United were the more dominant side; they enjoyed far more possession and showed great desire to regain the ball whenever it was lost in the early stages. To their credit, Villarreal responded well; a couple of dangerous corners came shortly after the early United pressure. From the second, Carlos Bacca produced an exquisite rabona cross which Moreno could not direct on target from the penalty spot. In the first half an hour, the Spanish side did a great job to stay rigid and disciplined in a low block before springing the odd counterattack. Just before the clock turned to thirty, Villarreal were rewarded for a perfectly executed first third. After winning a free-kick just inside the area, Dani Parejo's fantastic delivery was met by Gerard Moreno, who had evaded his marker Lindelof and stretched to finish past de Gea. It was the Spaniards 30th goal in a terrific season with El Submarino Amarillo.

The goal rattled the English side. Solskjaer suddenly advanced from his seated position in the dugout to berate his players, who had let their performance levels dip in the minutes before the goal. The pattern of the game returned to its default; United laid siege to the Villarreal area but were unable to penetrate their compact shape. The English side did enjoy a couple of opportunities at the end of the half, which gave hope for another comeback . First, Rashford retrieved possession from Parejo, who dallied, before running at the defence, chopping inside his man and firing a low cross into the area. A minute later, Greenwood turned on the afterburners and accelerated past Alfonso, at right back, before his cross was, fortunately, for Villarreal at least, deflected into the hands of a grateful Rulli. As the halftime whistle blew, Villarreal were ahead, but this was a scenario Solskjaer's men had faced and overcome many times before this season.

With another comeback needed for United, you would have expected them to impose their will from the off, but Villarreal had the better of the early stages of the second period. They might have doubled their lead if things had fallen more favourably for Bacca, a dangerous ball squirted and pinged off defenders in a scramble in the United six-yard area.

That sparked United into some action, and it looked like their familiar saviours, VAR and penalties, would allow them to equalise, but even though it looked like Greenwood was caught by Alfonso, neither the referee nor VAR deemed it a punishable offence. The English side's next chance came from McTominay, who swivelled and turned to get a shot off after a deep free-kick. His endeavour was rewarded as from the resulting corner kick, United were level. Edinson Cavani, amazingly in his first European final, reacted quickest after Rashford's strike had been deflected. A VAR check gave the United fans some added tension behind the goal, but the veteran striker had done well to get himself back onside after the initial corner.

The red devils were an intimidating force after their leveller. Everything they did, they completed with more vigour than they had previously. Spurred on by the Manchester faithful bellowing attack, attack, attack, attack, attack! They put the Spanish side under increasing pressure despite never really threatening the Villarreal goal. The threats grew more potent in the final twenty minutes, to be fair. First, Rashford missed a sitter after some intelligent play between Cavani and Fernandes - the Portuguese midfielder looked offside as he received Cavani's pass. Still, since Rashford missed the effort, we never got to find out if it would have stood. Only a few minutes later, Rashford linked up with Shaw on the left. Shaw turned inside Capoue, who was tracking, before striking toward the goal with his weaker right foot. Suppose there's one man who can manufacture a chance from nothing. That would be Cavani, and he was so unfortunate to see his improvised header cannon off the brow of Pau Torres, perfectly positioned in front of his keeper.

After taking off Bacca midway through the second half, Villarreal's attacking output was nearly non-existent; they relied on sporadic incursions into the United half and the odd set piece, which they failed to capitalise on. Emery's response was to bring on the clinical Paco Alcacer, but he could do little to stem the flow of the tide. More United pressure came, McTominay drove brilliantly throughout, Rashford had a few wayward efforts, and Pogba headed over the bar under some pressure from the outstanding Torres. Still, Villarreal held firm to take the game into extra time.

Strangely, Solskjaer refused to make a substitution in the 90 and Villarreal's fresh legs saw them impose themselves early on in extra time. Alberto Moreno squandered a threatening crossing opportunity before Alcacer blazed a strike well over the bar. The United manager finally budged in the 99th minute, bringing on Fred for Greenwood in a sleepy period for his side. With nothing for either side to show from their weary extra time play, the final was left to be decided on penalties. It was well worth the wait for the shootout we were treated to - well, maybe not entirely worth the 120 minutes of play, but the shootout was pretty extraordinary.

Villarreal won the first battle. They were up first and in front of their own fans. Moreno, perfect from the spot during the season, coolly slid the first past de Gea. Mata replied with a perfect penalty to the right of Rulli. Raba, another late 'penalty' substitute, made it 2-1. Telles, like Mata, a late arrival, confidently struck to level it up after four. Paco Alcacer was up next for Villarreal, and his effort just squeaked past the fingertips of de Gea, who guessed correctly. Bruno Fernandes levelled for United next, Rulli like de Gea, got something on strike and could have done better.
Former Liverpool man Alberto Moreno put the yellow submarine ahead -3 before Rashford kept his cool to make it 4-4. Dani Parejo was Villarreal's 5th taker; he lashed his strike past de Gea to pressure Cavani, who had to score. The talisman did just that; he buried his effort, again to the right of the keeper. Ten perfect penalties, sudden death! Moi Gomez, Fred, Albiol, Dan James, Shaw, Gaspar, Tuenzebe, Pau Torres, and Victor Lindelof were all incredibly successful from the spot to make it 10-10 and onto the keepers. First up was Rulli; he wonderfully lashed his penalty into the top corner, leaving de Gea with the final kick. It's a cruel game sometimes, and after failing to save any of the 11 Villarreal penalties that flew past him, de Gea was the first and only man to miss in Gdansk on Wednesday night. His side-footed effort was palmed away by Rulli to win the cup for Villarreal and conclude a historic tie.

This was not the trophy United coveted, but it would have provided a marker to their season of progress. This ultimately is Villarreal's day, the greatest day in the club's history. They executed their game plan perfectly to triumph against the odds and to go with their maiden European trophy; this win grants them a place in next season's premier competition.