David de Gea's missed penalty consigned Manchester United to a dramatic 11-10 penalty shootout defeat against Villarreal in the Europa League final following a 1-1 draw in Gdansk, Poland.
This felt a huge missed opportunity for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a first trophy as Manchester United manager continues to evade him. In front of 9,500 supporters, Gerard Moreno met Daniel Parejo's free-kick to steer home his 30th goal in all competitions to give the Spanish side a first-half lead (29).
United, who won the competition under Jose Mourinho in 2017, were indebted once again to the razor-sharp finishing of Edinson Cavani, who struck his 16th goal in his last 11 Europa League starts to haul his side level (55).
It was one of just two shots on target from United as extra time failed to illuminate a poor contest, but goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli would prove the hero during a pulsating shootout, first converting his own penalty before keeping out De Gea's effort as Unai Emery clinched a fourth Europa League title and Villarreal a first ever major trophy.
How Villarreal won the shootout 11-10
|Gerard Moreno scored||Juan Mata scored|
|Raba scored||Alex Telles scored|
|Paco Alcacer scored||Bruno Fernandes scored|
|Alberto Moreno scored||Marcus Rashford scored|
|Daniel Parejo scored||Edinson Cavani scored|
|Moi Gomez scored||Fred scored|
|Raul Albiol scored||Daniel James scored|
|Francis Coquelin scored||Luke Shaw scored|
|Mario Gaspar scored||Axel Tuanzebe scored|
|Pau Torres scored||Victor Lindelof scored|
|Geronimo Rulli scored||David De Gea missed|
United sunk by Yellow Submarine
Villarreal finished seventh in La Liga and were facing the prospect of playing in the Europa Conference League next season had they become the first Spanish team to lose a European final against a non-Spanish side in 16 previous showdowns.
Monaco stood to benefit with a Champions League group stage berth via the back door had United prevailed. But Emery would be reunited with his favourite trophy with a place at Europe's top table to boot.
You can’t switch performance on and off like a tap. Haven’t played well for weeks and last night a continuation of the form recently . Pressure will be applied to Ole and the team. Rightly so. Need to get it right this summer and a good start to next season needed badly!— Gary Neville (@GNev2) May 27, 2021
Having famously struck with virtually the last kick against Bayern Munich to win the Champions League for United on this day in 1999, Solskjaer spoke about the pressure and expectation to claim his first piece of silverware as United boss, 22 years on from that fateful night, but he conceded afterwards that his players "didn't turn up".
Villarreal arrived in Gdansk unbeaten in their 14 Europa League matches, winning 12, while it was 20 years ago that an English side vanquished an opponent from La Liga in a European final - losing all nine previous meetings dating back to Liverpool's UEFA Cup triumph over Alaves in 2001.
Villarreal: Rulli (7), Foyth (7), Albiol (7), Torres (8), Pedraza (7), Pino (6), Capoue (8), Parejo (7), Trigueros (6), Moreno (7), Bacca (6).
Subs: Mario (6), Alcacer (6), Moreno (7), Coquelin (7), Moi Gomez (6), Raba (n/a).
Man Utd: De Gea (5), Wan-Bissaka (5), Bailly (6), Lindelof (5), Shaw (7), McTominay (8), Pogba (6), Fernandes (5), Greenwood (7), Rashford (5), Cavani (8).
Subs: Fred (6), James (n/a), Tuanzebe (n/a), Telles (n/a), Mata (n/a).
Man of the match: Scott McTominay.
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Sir Alex Ferguson sat watching on from the stands at the Polsat Plus Arena. As did Wayne Rooney, the last United captain to lift a trophy, and they would have been encouraged by the start.
Marcus Rashford, one of just two survivors from the United side that beat Ajax in the final four years ago, teed up Scott McTominay for an early shot from the edge of the box but he dragged his effort well wide.
Solskjaer's men had already knocked out two Spanish sides - Real Sociedad and Granada - en route to the final, and Villarreal were struggling to get out of their own half in the opening quarter of an hour.
- Villarreal made four changes from the side that started the second leg against Arsenal. Foyth returned from injury in place of Mario Gaspar and Capoue, suspended in London, replaced Coquelin. Bacca was in for the injured Chukwueze, while Pino started ahead of Alcacer.
- Fernandes captained Man Utd as Maguire was named among the substitutes. Maguire looked set to miss out on the squad after sitting out training on Tuesday with ankle ligament damage but was named on the bench in Gdansk, where Lindelof started alongside Bailly. De Gea got the nod over Henderson in goal, while Pogba started alongside McTominay in midfield as Fred had to make do with a spot on the bench.
Emery, who won the Europa League three times in a row with Sevilla, continued to look agitated as Luke Shaw collected Aaron Wan-Bissaka's cross with his fizzed shot just evading the studs of Bruno Fernandes.
Villarreal absorbed the early threat and began to impose themselves via a spate of Daniel Parejo corners. On one such occasion when United failed to clear, Carlos Bacca's dexterous rabona cross was headed over Pau Torres.
Emery had shown no hesitation in calling on Yeremi Pino; aged 18 years and 218 days, he became the youngest ever Spanish player to start a major European final, breaking the previous record held by Iker Casillas, and he fired a warning sign with a snapshot moments before United fell behind.
Moreno hung on Shaw's shoulder before his darting run inside pinned Victor Lindelof as the striker stuck out a leg to meet Parejo's free-kick and stab his shot beyond De Gea at the far post. It was his 82nd goal in all competitions for Villarreal, joining Giuseppe Rossi as the club's all-time top-scorer.
The inquest began into United's slack defending as Solskjaer stepped out from his technical area, a forlorn figure with his arms outstretched. He berated an increasingly dispiriting opening period which very nearly had a happy ending as Mason Greenwood escaped Alfonso Pedraza down the right with his firm cross deflecting off Raul Albiol into the grateful arms of Rulli.
A hallmark of United's season had been overcoming setbacks; collecting an unrivalled 31 points from losing positions in the Premier League, and Solskjaer called on his players to show their resolve once more having produced a measly xG of 0.09 before the restart.
Villarreal had only conceded two goals away from home in the competition, however, and threatened a second on 48 minutes as a slip by Eric Bailly very nearly allowed Moreno to scramble the ball home from close range.
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Sky Sports' Nick Wright commented: "Another set piece causes mayhem in the Manchester United box. They are missing Harry Maguire, undoubtedly, but defending set pieces has been a problem for this side all season."
Villarreal had clearly done their homework, as they survived a faint penalty appeal and a VAR check when Greenwood went down holding his foot following a challenge from Pedraza. There was more intensity to United's play, and they would draw level on 55 minutes.
Shaw's corner was cleared only as far as Marcus Rashford, whose mishit ricocheted kindly for Cavani to instinctively finish. Once more, referee Clement Turpin consulted VAR Francois Letexier for offside, but the goal stood.
Cavani had done extremely well to get back onside as yellow shirts flooded out of the box, and United went in search of an instant second as Fernandes struck a loose ball across goal, flashing inches away from the predatory Cavani.
Villarreal were beginning to tire as Rashford scuffed a glorious chance wide of Rulli's post from Fernandes' cross on 70 minutes, although the linesman's flag spared the Englishman's blushes, with Torres then in the right place to block Cavani's improvised header from Shaw's wayward shot.
Villarreal's second-half forays were sporadic with Moreno missing the target from distance - their first attempt since the break to United's six. The momentum was with United as McTominay drove them forward in search of a winner, feeding Shaw down the left before his cross was headed over by Paul Pogba.
But if Villarreal were braced for a late onslaught, it never materialised as United slunk back into risk-free football. Instead, Torres failed to bend his shot from Mario Gaspar's cut-back inside the post as Turpin signalled for extra time.
Emery had made five alterations up until this point while Solskjaer still had all five of his substitutes to call upon. It felt somewhat strange given the dip in intensity of the opening 15 minutes of additional time as one of those Villarreal reinforcements, former Liverpool defender Alberto Moreno, sliced a shot wide from the angle.
The game was developing into a war of attrition, with Paco Alcacer's rushed finish the last act before Fred was introduced for the fading Greenwood. The momentum had shifted back to Emery's men but with their opponents subdued, penalties felt an inevitability.
United had experienced just why Villarreal had gone the whole competition unbeaten; the last time the Europa League was decided by a shootout was back in 2014, when Emery was manager of Sevilla - overcoming Benfica 4-2 following a goalless draw.
De Gea hadn't saved a Premier League penalty for six-and-a-half years, and he didn't come close to keeping out any of Villarreal's efforts in a nerve-shredding shootout that was decided in dramatic circumstances as following 20 successful spot-kicks, Rulli blasted home his penalty before denying the crestfallen De Gea.
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told BT Sport: "It's quiet, of course, it's a disappointed dressing room.
"That's football for you. Sometimes it's decided on one kick - that's the difference between winning and losing sometimes. We've got to learn from that one, got to not savour this feeling, but taste this feeling and make sure you don't get it again.
"We didn't turn up and we didn't play as well as we know we can do. I thought we started alright and they scored from the only shot they had on target. We pushed and pressed, but after we scored, we couldn't control the game as well as we'd have wanted.
"They made it hard for us and closed the spaces. They defended well and we didn't create enough big chances. Now is not the time to point the finger at what I'd have done differently but when you come away without a trophy, you've not done everything right.
"We're getting closer and closer. We were one kick away from getting the trophy and having a good night. We have to show the desire to improve and get better next year. No [it's not been a successful season]. We have to get better. They're gutted in there but now is not the time to analyse the whole season."
Villarreal boss Unai Emery: "My fourth Europa League success is no secret. It is all about work. Nothing else. For example, in the last week I have analysed 17 United games. Then the players have shown great character throughout not only the competition in general but also in the final. They have been fabulous.
"As for the penalties, we did not practise or rehearse them. It is something which happens in the moment, that's all. In the end it turned out well for us.
"I think the players have shown a good mentality throughout the competition and in the final. We've known how to compete, suffer, score, and we finished stronger than them. Penalties aren't a lottery; you have to have a strong head to shoot in that situation of maximum pressure and the players have been fabulous."
Rashford: Close is not good enough
Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford to BT Sport:
"It's disappointing. The feeling is difficult to explain. We came here to win. We've been working so hard all season and this was the opportunity to win a trophy. Maybe not now, but we need to look back at the game and see where we can improve.
"The team will not give up, the manager will not give up. We'll come next season with a bigger desire. People say a lot about Manchester United, but for me the hunger, desire, talent and ability - we have everything to compete at the highest level. We just have to show it to the world and to ourselves, why we belong in places like this.
"I promise you, I promise the fans, we don't give up. There's no chance. We come next season with more desire and more hunger.
"Sacrifice means a lot, I know in every club they don't have this sacrifice. In the top clubs, they have. This is why the top clubs win the trophies.
"We are close, I promise we are close. But close is not good enough. We have to be there."
Man of the match - Scott McTominay
This was a disappointing final lacking in quality and producing only three shots on target across 120 minutes. It was the acid test for several United players who have been tasked with creating a winning culture under Solskjaer, but only McTominay truly showcased the progress he has made during his stewardship.
It was his deflected effort which led to United's equaliser via Shaw's set-piece, and his energy still burned brightly during extra time.
On the anniversary of Sir Matt Busby's birth - as well as that epic Champions League final in 1999 - it would have been fitting had a fellow Scot grabbed the headlines. But his performance bodes well for his country this summer.
United's poor shootout record - Opta stats
- Villarreal are the first side to win in their first appearance in a major European final since Shakhtar Donetsk in the 2008-09 UEFA Cup.
- Manchester United have lost six of their last seven penalty shootouts in all competitions, only winning against Rochdale in the League Cup in September 2019 in that time.
- Villarreal boss Unai Emery is the first manager to win either the UEFA Cup or UEFA Europa League four times, surpassing Giovanni Trapattoni.
- Villarreal became the 13th side in Europe's big five leagues to hit the 100-goal milestone in all competitions this season (100).
- The three shots on target produced in the game (1 for Villarreal and 2 for Man Utd) was the lowest tally in a UEFA Europa League final since Porto v Sporting Braga in 2011 also saw just three.
- Gerard Moreno became the first player to score 30+ goals for Villarreal in a single season in all competitions since Giuseppe Rossi in 2010-11 (32).
What's next? Euros, transfer window, 2021/22 key dates
Euro 2020 kicks off on Friday June 11 - just 19 days after the conclusion of the 2020/21 Premier League season - and runs until Sunday July 11.
The 2021/22 Premier League campaign will start on the weekend of Saturday August 14 - 34 days after that Euro 2020 final at Wembley.
Clubs will be able to start planning for the new term when the top-flight fixtures are released at 9am on Wednesday, June 16 but transfer business can start in earnest before then, with the summer transfer window opening on Wednesday June 9.
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The 2021/22 Championship season begins a week before the top-flight one on the weekend of Saturday August 7. All Sky Bet EFL fixtures will be announced at 9am on Thursday June 24.