Manchester United will be hoping to win their first silverware under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when they take on Villarreal in Wednesday’s UEFA Europa League final.
Victory would represent Solskjaer’s maiden trophy as United boss in what is his first major final as the Red Devils’ manager.
The Norwegian has seen his side fall at the semi-final hurdle on four separate occasions, including in last season’s Europa League where United missed out to eventual winners Sevilla.
Wednesday’s showpiece in the Polish port city of Gdansk is Manchester United’s 8th major European final, with the Premier League club winning 5 of the preceding 7 finals before now.
Interestingly, the two European finals in which United failed to win were both against Spanish opposition, with Barcelona twice the victors against Sir Alex Ferguson’s Old Trafford outfit in 2009 and 2011 respectively.
Furthermore, of the last 9 finals between Premier League and La Liga sides, the Spanish have come out on top, with Liverpool’s victory over Alaves in this competition 20 years ago the last time an English team has taken the prize ahead of their Iberian counterparts.
United’s opponents Villarreal may take some confidence from those statistics, although they’ll no doubt take more spirit from the fact that coach Unai Emery is the most successful manager in the history of the UEFA Europa League.
Emery is a three-time winner of the competition, having lifted the trophy when manager of Sevilla in a remarkable run of consecutive seasons in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The former Arsenal boss also reached the 2019 final when in charge of the Gunners, although they were convincingly beaten by London rivals Chelsea in Azerbaijan on that night.
Now, Emery is back there once again, this time with a Villarreal side who recently finished 7th in La Liga.
Much like the Premier League, a 7th placed finish in the Spanish top flight is enough for qualification to next season’s inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League.
Although, Villarreal will not only have their eyes on silverware on Wednesday, but also the opportunity to compete in next season’s Champions League should they beat Manchester United in Gdansk.
United have no such European qualification concerns, having finished second in the Premier League and guaranteed to be playing Champions League football next term regardless.
Second spot has been sewn up at Old Trafford for a while now, and as such Solskjaer’s side have seen a dip in form in recent weeks.
Manchester United finished their domestic campaign with a victory over Wolves at Molineux last weekend, which meant that they became just the 4th team in English top flight history to go an entire season unbeaten away from home.
However, they have tasted defeat twice in their last 5 games to Leicester and Liverpool respectively, as well as drawing 1-1 with already-relegated Fulham in that time.
One possible factor for United’s turbulent recent form is the absence of Harry Maguire, who picked up an injury when playing against Aston Villa earlier this month and has missed the last few games.
The England defender is a major doubt for the final, although he has been included in the squad – Maguire had played every minute of every Premier League game this season before he was forced off at Villa Park.
That leaves Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with an interesting decision to make regarding his preferred centre back partnership, with Victor Lindelof, Axel Tuanzebe and Eric Bailly – who faces his former club – the contenders for a starting spot.
Teammates Phil Jones and Anthony Martial have also been missing for a number of weeks now and both won’t play in the final.
Villarreal’s last outing was a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid, who needed to win and hope for a slip up from cross-city rivals Atletico as the La Liga title race went down to the final day.
Plenty of the positives from a Yellow Submarines perspective have come from the boot of Gerard Moreno, with the striker having scored 29 goals in all competitions this season.
Winger Samuel Chukwueze has also been a bright spark, but he faces an uphill battle to overcome a hamstring complaint which may keep him out of contention for Wednesday’s final.
Premier League fans will notice several familiar faces in the Villarreal ranks, including former Watford midfielder Etienne Capoue, ex-Arsenal man Francis Coquelin and one-time Everton defender Ramiro Funes Mori.
Tottenham’s Juan Foyth is also on loan at Villarreal, but he is doubtful for the game in Gdansk due to a muscle strain.
The UEFA Europa League final between Manchester United and Villarreal in Gdansk kicks off at 8pm on Wednesday 26th May.