Wednesday’s Europa League final sees continental legacy against relative newcomers when Manchester United meet Villarreal in Gdansk. The latter are competing in their first European final ever, while United are experienced competitors at this stage of the season, going after their seventh major honor and yet another Europa League trophy to follow what they raised in 2017.
But in the excavations, the roles are reversed as Unai Emery chases his fourth Europa League, while Ole Gunnar Solskjær looks for a first trophy as United manager. Will the lack of experience count for something in a final where both teams may be missing key players? Let’s make some predictions:
United are struggling to build without Maguire
What little hope Solskjaer might have had that Harry Maguire would be available for the Europa League final seemed to disappear on Tuesday night as the club curtain went down the tunnel at Stadion Miejski without so much as getting his kit to attend the training session. . This game has seen miraculous recoveries in the past – two years ago N’Golo Kante probably seemed to miss Chelsea against Arsenal as he limped out of the last pre-match session before a fantastic showing in Baku – but with the European Championships on the horizon it could be too great a risk for Maguire to take on the pitch against Villarreal tomorrow.
Likewise, if there is the slightest hope that Maguire can play for United, it will be difficult for Solskjær to resist the temptation. He may have his shortcomings, but there are few players as important to the Red Devils’ game as their blanket. The defensive side is of course worth tackling, but from the start it should definitely be noted how important the midfielder is to effectively get the ball up the field, either through his pass or his tendency to step into midfield.
According to fbref.com only Luke Ayling and Ruben Dias carried the ball more yards against opponents’ goals than Maguire did in the Premier League this season. It partly reflects the large number of minutes the 28-year-old played, but it is also a sign of a player who is comfortable with the ball at his feet and is not afraid of a dribble. On 57 occasions, he led possession into the attacking third, 40 times more than Ruben Dias and 33 more than Victor Lindelof for example and a pleasing number for a center-back.
Also, since his arrival in the summer of 2019, he is averaging 6.48 to the attacking third, a number no lower than Fred or Scott McTominay. Maguire covers many of the playmaker’s shortcomings in the deep midfield pairing, and as the heatm above shows, he is crucial in unlocking the left flank, where much of United’s dangerous build-up comes as Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba.
Then there is the question of how United are doing defensively. The sample size is actually small, but opponents have had better shooting chances in the 10 Premier League and European matches Maguire’s team has played without him, ranging from top-class sides like Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool to Astana and Fulham. Opposition average 1.17 expected goals (xG, a measurement that assesses the probability that a shot will result in a goal) per. Match when they meet United without their skipper, nine percent higher than when Maguire starts. Similarly, they take 11.6 shots per. Fight as opposed to 10.5. These may seem like small margins, but that’s exactly what can be exploited in one – off finals.
Emery will not take advantage of United’s weaknesses
The question is whether an Emery team can make the most of these margins. It seems almost unreasonable to criticize the proach of a leader whose success in this competition is unchallenged. He has already lifted the Europa League trophy three times, yet another, and he is aware of Giovanni Trpatoni as the most successful manager in the history of this competition. Not since 2012 has he lost a knockout tie in this competition.
However, such records are worth reserving. There have been almost accidents, a goal at the last minute to scrub past Valencia, and some inventory lists bordering on the hike. Before the semi-finals of this season, Villarreal’s path through the knockout stages led them past Red Bull Salzburg, Dinamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb, hardly a cast of European giants. That’s how he managed the semi-final against his former club Arsenal, which could give cause for concern.
It is not that Villarreal lacked the ability to impose Mikel Arteta’s side, but more that their manager seemed disgusted to do so. It’s a move that Arsenal fans will remember well, where other leaders can go to the jugular, Emery would try to keep what he had. In the first leg The yellow submarine ran wild through their visitors, but in the interval, striker Paco Alcacer was pulled back in favor of midfielder Francis Coquelin, and the Gunners gained a foothold in the game and subsequently a draw.
Even in the other leg, when of course it was natural to fall deep and try to hold on to the lead, there was no need to be as furtive as they were, pack men behind the ball and put together eight shots to a total value of 0, 35xG. When Samuel Chukwueze went with injury, Villarreal’s attacking spark left the feeling that something unpredictable could be amplified (and he will be sorely missed if he is not available for the final). It was undoubtedly to the credit of Raul Albiol, Pau Torres and Coquelin that Villarreal kept Arsenal at arm’s length, but as a goal for the visitors would have wiped out the away advantage that their opponents had accrued in the first place, it was confusing Villarreal showed no real attacking power.
That should be the cause of concern among Villarreal fans, not that their side is unable to defend, but that under Emery they are too willing to do so. This is a team that ranks dead in the middle of La Liga for points held from winning positions, 2.13 per. Games may sound like a healthy return, but Cadiz and Getafe, who finished the season in 15th, were among those more effective at protecting the driver. It was a similar story in Emery’s only full season at Arsenal, with the Gunners fifth among the ‘big six’ clubs in terms of average points taken from winning positions.
Such a proach is risky to any team, all the more so a Manchester United team that has occasionally this season given the impression that they must first admit to waking up from their sleep. When they do, they can tear teams apart in minutes. Emery would be advisable to ensure that his side does not simply allow Bruno Fernandes, Rashford and company to get on them if his side takes advantage of this competition.