Who would have thought that the Europa League Final between Manchester United and Villareal would feature 22 penalties? On the 26th of May, as the two teams entered the Polish Stadium, the burden of expectations certainly was on The Red Devils. Fans, Experts, Analysts, and stakeholders expected The English Giant to win against the Spanish football club. United Entered the field as favourites while Villareal had nothing to lose.
Despite being the final of a major European Football tournament, fans expected it to be a one-sided final. Manchester United had to prove that it was a successful campaign for them by winning the trophy.
A second-place finish in the premier league could wonderfully have been complemented by the Europa League Trophy. Not to be!
With the United favourite to win the glorious trophy, the game began. The game seemed open for United to win as they created multiple chances during the opening moments of the game. With regular scoring opportunities coming their way, one could sense an opening. In only the seventh minute, Rashford, with all his agility and athleticism entered the Villareal’s box, hoping to penetrate their defensive net. Eventually, he offloaded to McTominay, who had a clear shot at the goal from the edge of the box. But he somehow managed to shoot the ball wide, as the first of many opportunities to come United’s way, was grassed.
Chances continued to come and go but the scoreboard remained undisturbed. In the 20th minute, A wonderful cross somehow evaded every red shirt in the box as the ball rolled past the goalpost. By now, the inability of United to convert their chances was apparent.
Finally, a goal came, but not from United’s side. Villareal received a freekick in the 29th minute, Parejo wonderfully floated an accurate ball for Gerard, who made no mistake as he sent the ball into the top right corner, way beyond the diving De Gea’s reach. Villareal had the lead. And the scoreline read 1-0 Villareal.
United had to make a comeback but all their efforts went in vain as the first half came to a distressing end for the Red Devil’s fans. In the 52nd minute, a case for a penalty in favour of United’s Fernandez was put forward but VAR decided against it.
Three minutes later, United had their laugh as the Uruguayan Edinson Cavani scored the equaliser. Actually, Rashford had aimed for the glory with a strong shot from almost 20 yards but he found his fellow Mctominay in the way of the shot. The unintended block was eventually deflected to Edinson Cavani who simply had to tap it in. He retained his composure to score from a close range. The end result was United one, Villareal one.
All of a sudden, United had come to life, as they continued to press for the lead but it perhaps was not their day. The number of chances missed by them surprised one and all. The side looked rusty as their inability to convert chances meant that the game went into the extra time. The same story was repeated there as after 125+ competitive minutes of Football, the Europa League still did not have a winner.
Finally, it all had come down to the penalties. The fans, players, crowd, managers, support staff, commentators, everyone looked nervous.
For the first penalty, the scorer for Villareal Gerard Moreno was on the ball. He wonderfully placed the ball into the bottom left corner, as the keeper went the other way.
Juan Mata also targeted the same side for United and managed to evade the diving keeper to make it 1-1.
Dani Raba took a shot similar to Gerard’s as the United keeper was beaten again. The scoresheet read 2-1 in favour of Villareal. Alex Telles scored for the United to make it 2-2.
De Gea got a hand to Paco Alcacer’s penalty but couldn’t prevent the ball from going in. The same was the case with Bruno Fernandez’s strike as he made it 3-3.
The second last penalty was taken by Alberto Moreno for Villareal, who also scored as the counter became 4-3. Marcus Rashford replied with the sweetest and cheekiest of his shots. 8 penalties had been done. And it was 4-each. So, it had come down to sudden death, even before the traditional five penalties were done.
Dani Parejo scored the fifth one for Villareal. The pressure was on united as the scoresheet was 5-4. Edinson Cavani was on the ball. He had to score to keep the United alive and he did score!
After five penalties it was 5-each. They all were going in.
In the sudden-death format, Moi Gomez scored for Villareal but Fred replied to make it 6-each.
Raul Alboi scored for Villareal while Daniel James scored for the United to make it 7-each.
Coquelin scored to make it 8-7 Villareal. Luke Shaw made it 8-8 to keep United alive.
Mario Gaspar and Axel Tuanzebe, both scored for Villareal and Manchester United respectively, as it became 9-9.
The last field player to take the penalty was Pau Torres for Villareal and Victor Lindelof for Manchester United. The two scored as well as it became 10-10.
125+ minutes of play and 20 penalties, yet we didn’t have a winner. It was Keeper vs Keeper. It was the Spanish-star David De Gea for united and Argentinian Geronimo Rulli for Villareal.
The keepers had failed to keep even a single ball out. And now they had to try and score if they wanted to win it for their team. Geronimo scored with a perfect shot into the bottom right corner.
It was 11-10. De Gea had to score if United were to compete. All eyes were on the Spanish star.
To the agony of all the United fans around the world, De Gea missed!
The English Premier League Giant was beaten on the 22nd penalty of the night. Rulli had kept his calm to win it for Villareal.
While David De Gea ended up as the eventual culprit, he perhaps is not the right guy to blame.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær could have and perhaps should have replaced him with Dean Henderson. Though David De Gea remains the first-choice keeper for Manchester United, his record in the shootouts is not a pleasing one. The last time he saved a penalty was back in 2016. And since 2014, he has saved only one. One could add 11 misses in the final to that.
On the other hand, Dean Henderson, despite being the second-choice keeper for the club, possesses a much better record in the shoot-outs. He has saved five out of the 19 penalties he has faced.
Perhaps one right substitution could have saved the day for United. But there are things no one can control. There were plenty of mistakes in the field as well, that could have been rectified to save the day for United.
One must admire the scintillating competitiveness of the final. Congratulations to the Villareal fans!
That’s not the end of the season. There is another final coming up on Saturday night as an all English Final of UEFA’s Champion’s league is scheduled on the 29th of May between Manchester City and Chelsea. Let’s hope that the football fans will again get a chance to relive the thrill of the final. May the best team win but City seems to have the upper hand. For more details click here.
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