Villarreal have won the Europa League as Manchester United’s David de Gea missed the deciding penalty in a nerve-shredding shootout.
United came into the final in Gdansk looking to win their first trophy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having finally broken their semi-final curse with a stunning 8-5 aggregate win over AS Roma.
But with Unai Emery – who has now won the Europa League on a staggering four occasions – in the dugout for Villarreal, the Red Devils were wary of suffering the same fate as Arsenal.
Villarreal take the lead
And it was indeed the ‘Yellow Submarines’ who made the breakthrough in Poland, exposing the set-piece woes that have plagued United’s defence throughout the entire 2020/21 campaign.
Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof were caught napping from a Dani Parejo free-kick with the prolific Gerard Moreno eventually nipping in at the back-post to score his 30th goal of the season.
United had their moments in the opening 45 minutes, it must be said, but the nifty work from Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford wasn’t enough to stop Villarreal from leading 1-0 at half-time.
Villarreal vs Man Utd – Europa League Final (Football Terrace)
Cavani levels for Man Utd
However, Solskjaer clearly rattled his players’ cage at half-time because the Red Devils looked far more confident in the second-half and dragged themselves back into the game on 55 minutes.
After some brilliant work from Scott McTominay to win a corner, Gerónimo Rulli was forced into a dive by Rashford’s deflected effort, which eventually fell at Edinson Cavani’s feet.
And with the Villarreal shot-stopper still splayed out to his right-hand side in anticipation of the original shot, Cavani had all the time in the world to find the net and draw United level.
Rashford chance goes a-begging
In fact, United probably should have put themselves 2-1 up going into the final 20 minutes with Rashford, who was being roundly criticised for his performance, missing a brilliant opening.
Despite receiving a perfect pass into his feet in the penalty area, the England forward watched on in horror as a scuffed effort bobbled past the onrushing Rulli and desperately wide of the post.
With that, United’s best chance to put the game to bed in regulation time went and passed, meaning that the 2021 Europa League final would have to be settled with an additional 30 minutes.
Final goes to penalties
Extra time proved to be a cagey affair with Villarreal looking like the stronger team as Solskajer took bizarrely long to use his permitted substitutes, eventually turning to Fred in the 100th minute.
But in the end, despite the best efforts of both sides, there wasn’t to be another goal at the Polsat Plus Arena Gdańsk and the final trundled to the nerve-wracking threatre of a penalty shootout.
And brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, because the shootout played out as follows:
Gerard Moreno – scored (1-0)
Juan Mata – scored (1-1)
Dani Raba – scored (2-1)
Alex Telles – scored (2-2)
Paco Alcácer – scored (3-2)
Bruno Fernandes – scored (3-3)
Alberto Moreno – scored (4-3)
Marcus Rashford – scored (4-4)
Dani Parejo – scored (5-4)
Edinson Cavani – scored (5-5)
Moi Gómez – scored (6-5)
Fred – scored (6-6)
Raul Albiol – scored (7-6)
Daniel James – scored (7-7)
Francis Coquelin – scored (8-7)
Luke Shaw – scored (8-8)
Mario Gaspar – scored (9-8)
Axel Tuanzebe – scored (9-9)
Pau Torres – scored (10-9)
Victor Lindelof – scored (10-10)
Gerónimo Rulli – scored (11-10)
David de Gea – missed (11-10)
Heartbreaking for De Gea
You just couldn’t write it, could you? Just when you thought the tension couldn’t have been any higher, the penalty shootout turns into a marathon where it went down to the goalkeepers.
And having failed to keep out 11 consecutive Villarreal penalties, furthering the narrative of his poor save rate against spot-kicks, De Gea suffered the ignominy of missing the deciding effort.
It was a heart-breaking moment for the United shot-stopper and one that sees the club’s long run without trophies under Solskjaer continue for another season.
It just goes to show that beating Emery in the Europa League is near enough impossible.