It was a night not to remember for one of the greatest clubs in the world. Their legends like Gary Neville, Robbie Savage, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, and Ole Gunner Solksjaer were present. Even veteran Manager, Alex Ferguson was on the ground to cheer his protege to glory. But it all ended in tears. The combined presence of Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, and Mason Greenwood were not enough to secure the first trophy for the red Devils in over two seasons.
So what really happened? What caused the loss for United?
1. United were not clinical in the final third
After the equalizer by Cavani, many expected United to come all out and get another, but the Red Devils did not. United was not aggressive enough against a Villareal side which was obviously happy to sit deep and wait for Man United to bring on the game. Misses from Marcus Rashford in the 70th minute and Cavani in the 71st minute would have been enough to give United the win. United had 60% of the possession, 14 shots on goal, but just a meager 2 shots on target. Not good enough.
2. United were not adventurous
Back in the Fergie days, it would have been a different story, as the whole team would go on an all-out attack in the late minutes of the game. In those days, more often than not, the characteristic United spirit will force in a goal. But that did not happen. There were instances where one expected United to break out and counterattack, but their spring was broken off too easily, even before it gathered momentum. Pogba, McTominay, and Fernandes weren't able to light up the midfield as expected. United could not really open up Villareal as they would have done to other teams.
3. De Gea let the team down
After the game, many fans were left wondering why Henderson was not brought in before the penalty shootout. Or why De Gea who was obviously struggling to find form play in this all crucial match. De Gea conceded all 11 spot-kicks, and one would wonder why he could not at least save one, and then missed his own to make matters worse. Though Ole has said De Gea had prepared for penalty kicks in training, it was clear from his performance that the preparation wasn't good enough. David De Gea has now conceded 25 penalties in a row for Manchester United. In total, he has conceded the last 40 penalties he has faced for both club and country. On top of that, he has not saved a penalty in the last 5 years. No doubt De Ge should not have been between the posts yesterday.
4. Ole is not good enough
Ole should have known that De Gea has saved only 11 out of 64 penalties in his career; while Dean Henderson has saved 8 out of 19 penalties in his career. This should have informed his decision on who will take the penalties. Ole could have subbed off Rashford who was having a pretty bad game and brought in a younger player like Ahmad Diallo. Many have questioned his game management abilities and his overall credibility as a Manager, with hashtags like #OleOut trending on social media. His case could go the way of Lampard.
5. Emery's tactics were superior
Unai Emery, a serial winner of the Europa League, proved once again that he is clear of the rest. He positioned his team in a rather unpredictable manner. When high up the pitch, they pressed hard, when in the midfield they did not press, and instead they formed a pivot of four players: Capoue and Parejo behind the defense, while attackers Bacca and Moreno falling back to congest the midfield. When United pushed high with Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw, Villareal's wingers responded and dropped back to form a back six in the defense, neutralizing any overload that United was trying to create. Emery also opted to rest winger Samuel Chukwueze rather than risk aggravating his injury, and this decision paid off.
These reasons combined to condemn the Red Devils to another trophyless season. But as always, all hope is not lost. Many expect the Red Devils to be a serious contender for the EPL title next season. Perhaps United can pick up their pieces, rally themselves, and put up a proper challenge for the league title and the Champions League next season.
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