Euro 2020 Special

Europa League: Gdańsk All Set for Euro Summit

Three years ago today, Manchester United won the UEFA Europa League for the first (and to date, only) time in their history.

It capped a successful first season at the helm for Jose Mourinho as manager with their array of Europa League 2021 highlights seen largely as a potential trigger for more success in the seasons that immediately followed.

Four years on, United have not won any silverware since – their longest period without a trophy prior to Alex Ferguson’s arrival at the club in 1986.

Within 19 months of that triumph, Mourinho had gone and now his surprise successor, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, has the opportunity to end that barren run.

There’s no doubt that if he is able to lift the Europa League it will mean even more to fans as one of their own is at the helm.

It will also mean a lot after a largely miserable few years for England’s most successful club.

Standing in their way is an experienced manager who has made the trophy his own over the last decade and a club vying for their first ever European title.

Talking Points

Europa League: Manchester United to secure the title against Villarreal at Gdansk Stadium
Manchester United celebrate after winning the 2016-17 Europa League final against Ajax

Villarreal narrowly missed out on a bid to seal a place in this competition next season on the final day of the La Liga campaign – based on how other results transpired, they would have missed out even if they had held on to beat Real Madrid – but, in truth, this final has always been their priority.

Unai Emery is a serial winner of the competition and, as he prepares for an English-Spanish final, will relish taking on more Premier League opponents after he knocked his former side Arsenal out at the semi-final stage.

While his CV is littered with success at this level, Solskjaer is a novice and is making the step up from his time at Norwegian minnows Molde.

After 12 months of undoubted progress, which include a Premier League runners-up spot and an unbeaten away league campaign, the question now is can he make that next step and make United winners again?

If so, it looks like he will have to do it without captain Harry Maguire who is almost certain to be out with the ankle ligament damage which saw him miss the final fortnight of the Premier League season.

Maguire and Anthony Martial aside, Solskjaer should otherwise have a full-strength squad to select from.

Eric Bailly left Villarreal for Manchester five years ago and Maguire’s absence increases his chances of starting against the flourishing strike partnership of Gerard Moreno and Paco Alcácer.

There’s also plenty of Premier League experience in the ranks of the ‘Yellow Submarine’ with former Arsenal man Francis Coquelin, ex-Spurs duo Etienne Capoue and Juan Foyth (currently on loan from North London) and one-time Everton defender Ramiro Funes Mori in their ranks.

As former Arsenal boss – he led the Gunners to the final of the competition two seasons ago – Emery has plenty of experience of facing Premier League opponents and his three Europa League titles are enough for a share of the all-time record with veteran Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni.

In Gdańsk, he could become the most successful outright as Villarreal aim to add silverware to a trophy cabinet currently occupied by two UEFA Intertoto Cups and the 1970 Spanish fourth-tier title.

All the expectation is on United in a showpiece played on the birthday of the great regarded as the club’s founding father, Sit Matt Busby.

Whichever way it goes, I do not think for a minute it will be the same scoreline as their previous four meetings.


That is because all those encounters, between 2005 and 2008, have ended goalless.

They were in the Champions League group stages in 2005/06 and 08/09 when United were defending champions.

While those meetings failed to conjure a goal, there was no shortage of drama, with red cards and the woodwork hit with regularity.