Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted the Europa League final to be a “step” towards future success. Instead, United slipped away.
The 11-10 loss to Villarreal on penalties after a 1-1 draw on Wednesday left Solskjaer and his players wondering how to correct mistakes in their game so that United’s continued recovery would finally bring trophies.
“We finished second in the league. The latter doesn’t count for anything, “striker Marcus Rashford told BT Sport.” Manchester City wins (English Premier League), we finish second, that means nothing. Villarreal wins the Europa League, we finish second. It means nothing to us.
“I don’t want to hear. ‘They were so close.’ That doesn’t mean anything, “he continued.” There’s one winner and one loser and we lost today. We need to understand why and make sure we don’t lose next time. “
Solskjaer said in the build-up that winning the Europa League – which would be the club’s first trophy since 2017 – “could be the stepping stone to something better, a brighter future, because this team is a young team.”
Progress has certainly been made after three semi-final defeats and third place in the EPL in 2019-20. Still, United were only in the Europa League this season because they could not get out of the Champions League group, which included Paris Saint-Germain, Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir.
The final was decided in an unusual way when the penalty of goalkeeper David de Gea – the last of 22 executed in an epic penalty – was saved. But there were many more prosaic moments for United to work on.
There was a confused defense that allowed Villarreal to score the first goal when Gerard Moreno slipped out of his marker Luke Shaw and threw himself past Victor Lindelof to score a free kick.
United have won 12 games this season after coming from a losing position, but tried to break through Villarreal’s compact defense. Villarreal effectively scored Bruno Fernandez out of the game, leaving Scott McTominay to entrust more creative play to the midfield.
Solskjaer also seemed reluctant to trust his injury-laden bench, even as Villarreal brought in newer players and took the lead in overtime. In the end, Solskjaer made five changes, but none before the 100th minute, and two of them were specifically to attract penalties before the shot. This meant that United, with all their spending power, actually had a shallower squad than the team in seventh place in the Spanish league.
“We’re getting closer and better,” Solksjaer said after Wednesday’s final. “Today we were one foot away from the trophy and good night, but we must have the desire to return next year and make sure we get better. we are improving. “