Villarreal FC triumphed in the biggest game in their club’s history – also because the yellow submarine in Unai Emery had an expert on the sidelines, who has just shown it to his English critics again. At Manchester United, the tragic figure David de Gea after the dramatic penalty marathon in Gdansk (Click here for the highlights) raises the T-question once again and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s work is also questioned. Four storylines for the EL final.
The players from Villarreal and United had given themselves 120 minutes to end a tough final thriller with an almost epic final. The Yellow Submarine and the Red Devils managed only three shots on goal in 120 exciting, but hardly entertaining minutes.
Because one of these three shots found its target on each side, the final culminated in a penalty shootout that will not be forgotten anytime soon – just like the protagonists, who thereby became heroes or tragic characters. Five storylines for the endgame …
The fear of the penalty shoot-out, according to an old football wisdom, does not lie with the goalkeeper but with the shooter. So far, so good, so obvious. But on Wednesday evening, when de Gea stood between the posts eleven times against Villarreal, let the ball pass eleven times and then had to compete himself as the 22nd shooter, this wisdom was suspended for him – and that had a history.
Since the Spaniard came to Manchester United from Atletico Madrid in 2011 for 25 million euros, he has been the undisputed number one in the Red Devils – and not without good reason, after all, he was one of the few constants in the frustrating Post-Sir- Alex Ferguson era in Manchester.
1. De Gea becomes a tragic figure at ManUnited: Out of service!
Also because Giggs was not the only fully convinced De Gea advocate in the club, the club made him the best earner among United professionals alongside Paul Pogba in 2019 with a contract extension until 2023. But since then, de Gea’s status at United has crumbled tremendously.
Again and again, the 30-year-old suffered individual dropouts. For example, in the embarrassing bankruptcy against the bottom line Watford in 2019, or in the FA Cup semifinals against Chelsea last year, or in a 1-1 draw against Everton just a few months before the Chelsea bankruptcy, after United legend Roy Keane broke the collar .
“It doesn’t matter whether I was a player or a coach, I would have killed him,” said Keane at the time: “It’s almost arrogant. I would have lynched him at half-time. There is no excuse for that.”
Unlike Keane, United coach Solskjaer gave his troubled goalkeeper confidence for a long time despite the increasing number of mistakes – especially in the important games. And that despite the fact that Dean Henderson, who had returned to Manchester on loan at Sheffield United last summer after a very strong season, was becoming more and more self-grown.
In March, however, the hierarchy in the United goal changed suddenly: De Gea was absent from the squad for the game at Crystal Palace “for personal reasons” and did so in the following two weeks. Henderson stepped in, convinced and ousted de Gea as a regular goalkeeper, apart from the league games against Leicester and Fulham and the Europa League games.
But contrary to all the loud criticism and rumors circulating about his early release, Solskjaer managed a positive trend reversal, with United for a short time at the top of the table at the beginning of the year. In the end, at least in the Premier League, the runner-up was the best season position since 2017/18.
The unanimous opinion is that the progress made by the Red Devils can be seen in a playful way compared to previous years. And that is exactly what Solskjaer had to not only confirm in the EL final, but also to silver. But he and his team missed this opportunity – and not only that.
3rd Emery for the 4th time Europa League winner: Whoever laughs last, …
“They weren’t good today. But all in all, there is progress,” said United legend Paul Scholes as a TV expert BT Sports. Rio Ferdinand also agreed: “When Ole got here, things went haywire. He ensured stability. But at some point there will come a time when you have to win titles.”
The defeat in Gdansk is not a worst case for Solskjaer in view of the league result. But the pressure on him is growing. He has been in office longer than his predecessors Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal. Both won titles with United – and Solskjaer will have to do so by next season at the latest.
Unai Emery took his big revenge at Arsenal a few weeks ago when he shot the Gunners, whom he had coached for a year and a half, out of the semi-finals with Villarreal. “Satisfaction, pride and joy,” he felt after the 0-0 draw in the second leg, as he himself openly admitted.