The Europa League final on Wednesday will see continental heritage face off against newcomers when Manchester United take the pitch against Villarreal in Gdansk. The latter are playing their first-ever European final while United are seasoned contenders at this point in the season, for their seventh major honor and another Europa League trophy to follow the one they won in 2017.
But in the dugouts, the roles are reversed as Unai Emery continues his fourth Europa League while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seeks a first trophy as United manager. Will this lack of experience count for anything in a final where both teams might miss key players? Let’s make some predictions:
United struggle to build without Maguire
What little hope Solskjaer might have had that Harry Maguire would be available for the Europa League final appeared to fade Tuesday night when the club captain walked into the Stadion Miejski tunnel without even having his kit for participate in training. This game has seen miraculous recoveries in the past – two years ago N’Golo Kante looked certain to miss out for Chelsea against Arsenal when he limped from the last pre-match session before a superb display in Baku – but with the European. Championships on the horizon, it may be too risky for Maguire to hit the pitch against Villarreal tomorrow.
Likewise, if there is any hope that Maguire can play for United, it will be difficult for Solskjaer to resist the temptation. He might have his faults, but there are few players as crucial to the Red Devils’ game as their captain. The defensive side is naturally worth tackling, but right off the bat it’s certainly worth noting how essential the center-back is to effectively moving the ball forward on the pitch, whether through passing or propensity. to enter midfield.
According to fbref.com only Luke Ayling and Ruben Dias carried the ball more yards towards the opponent’s goal than Maguire did in the Premier League this season. This partly reflects the volume of minutes played by the 28-year-old, but it is also a sign of a player who is comfortable with the ball at his feet and not afraid of a dribble. . On 57 occasions he took possession in the third striker, 40 times more than Ruben Dias and 33 more than Victor Lindelof for example and a garish number for a central defender.
Likewise since arriving in the summer of 2019, he’s averaged 6.48 passes in the third striker, a number not quite lower than either Fred or Scott McTominay. Maguire covers many of the playing shortcomings of this deep midfield couple and, as the heat map above shows, he’s crucial to unlocking the left flank where much of United’s dangerous buildup goes. by Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba.
Then there is the question of how United are doing on the defensive end. The sample size is admittedly small, but opponents have had better shooting chances in all 10 Premier League games and Maguire’s side have played without him, which range from top teams such as Paris Saint -Germain and Liverpool to Astana and Fulham. The opposition averages 1.17 expected goals (xG, a metric that rates the likelihood of a shot going for a goal) per game when facing United without their skipper, nine percent more than when Maguire starts. Likewise, they take 11.6 shots per game against 10.5. These margins may seem small, but these are exactly what can be exploited in single finals.
Emery won’t 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 approach of a manager whose success in this competition is beyond reproach. He has already won the Europa League trophy three times, one more time and it is clear that Giovanni Trappatoni is the most successful manager in the history of this competition. Since 2012, he has not lost a knockout draw in this competition.
However, such recordings deserve caution. There have been near misses, a goal at the very last minute to overtake Valencia and lists of matches that border on the cake. Ahead of this season’s semi-final, Villarreal’s journey through the round of 16 has taken them past Red Bull Salzburg, Dinamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb, barely a cast of European giants. It is the way he handled the semi-final against former club Arsenal that could be of concern.
It wasn’t that Villarreal lacked the ability to win alongside Mikel Arteta but rather that their manager seemed loath to do so. It’s a trait Arsenal fans will well remember, where other managers might go as jugular Emery would try to hold on to what he had. In the first leg El Submarino Amarillo were rampant across their visitors, but in the meantime striker Paco Alcacer was pulled in favor of midfielder Francis Coquelin and the Gunners gained a foothold in the game and subsequently the draw.
Even in the second leg, when it was of course natural to fall deep and try to hold onto the lead, there was no need to be as stealthy as them, packing the men behind the ball and collecting eight shots from the ball. ‘a combined value of 0.35xG. . When Samuel Chukwueze got injured, so left Villarreal’s offensive spark, feeling that something unpredictable could happen (and he will be sorely missed if he’s not available for the final). It was undeniably to the credit of Raul Albiol, Pau Torres and Coquelin that Villarreal kept Arsenal at bay, but when a goal for the visitors would have wiped out the away goal advantage their opponents had accumulated in the first leg, it was baffling that Villarreal showed no real offensive impetus.
This should worry Villarreal fans, not that their team are unable to defend themselves, but that under Emery they are too willing to do so. They are a team that ranks in the middle of La Liga for points held from winning positions, 2.13 per game may seem like a healthy comeback, but 12th Cadiz and Getafe, who finished the season 15th, were among those who were most effective in protecting leads. It was a similar story in Emery’s only full season at Arsenal where the Gunners were fifth among the ‘big six’ clubs in points average taken from winning positions.
Such an approach is risky against any team, let alone a Manchester United side who on occasion this season have given the impression that they have to concede first to wake up from their slumber. When they do, they can tear teams to shreds in minutes. Emery would do well to make sure his team don’t just allow Bruno Fernandes, Rashford and company to just come to them if his side benefits in this contest.