May 26 – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can win his first trophy as Manchester United boss in Wednesday’s Europe League final in Poland’s Gdansk, but his side will have to overcome the competition’s ultimate expert Unai Emery and his Villareal, and lingering injury concerns over Harry Maguire.
It’s the fifth meeting between the two clubs, with each of the previous four meetings finishing 0-0 in the Champions League between 2005-06 and 2008-09. It is only Solskjaer’s second final in his managerial career, having won the 2013 Norwegian Cup with Molde, but based on historic pedigree and largesse the English club will be marginal favourites against Villarreal.
The Spanish club have never won a major trophy in their 98-year history, but United would do well to not underestimate the ‘yellow submarine’, who are unbeaten in European competition this season, winning 12 times and drawing twice.
Villareal coach Unai Emery has won the Europa League three times and can become the first coach to win the competition four times. The Spaniard guided Sevilla to victory in the competition in 2014, 2015 and 2016. He also reached the 2019 final as Arsenal boss.
The Europe League is very much Emery’s own territory. It’s where he is a proven winner and not the figure of ridicule he became in England following his underwhelming spell at Arsenal.
“If United are the favourites it’s because they have very good footballers, they have a great history, but we have arguments to be a real candidate to win here in Gdansk,” said Emery at a news conference. “United, at their best, can beat anyone. But we have our ‘pros’. We’ve analysed United closely and the key is to take our opportunities when they come.”
His Norwegian counterpart has injury concerns, with central defender Harry Maguire in a race against time to get fit for the final. He damaged his knee ligaments against Aston Villa on May 9. “I don’t expect him to be ready,” admitted Solskjaer, who could well start Victor Lindelöf and Eric Bailly in central defense.
This year’s final will be attended by supporters. Last season, UEFA shifted the Europa League final from Gdansk to Koln because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sevilla defeated Inter Milan 3-2 in the event. On Wednesday, UEFA and local authorities will allow 9,500 fans – 25% of the capacity at the Stadion Miejski – to attend the match, with each club having received an allocation of 2,000 tickets.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1634568717labto1634568717ofdlr1634568717owedi1634568717sni@o1634568717fni1634568717