The UEFA Europa League has officially reached its business end and tomorrow night, a new champion will be crowned in this elite competition. Villareal and Manchester United are set to face off in Gdansk in what is set to be a tactical battle of two managers with completely different resumes when it comes to silverware. Unai Emery led Sevilla to three consecutive Europa League titles from 2014 to 2016, led Arsenal to the final two years ago, and now returns to Gdansk to face Manchester United.
Meanwhile, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is yet to win a piece of silverware since his official appointment as Manchester United manager and will be hoping to secure at least one trophy in what has been a progressive season.
There will however be a few key clashes involving the most influential players from both sides where either set of players could end up losing or winning the game for their respective sides. Let us take a look at them:
Carlos Bacca vs Edinson Cavani
In what has been an underwhelming season for Carlos Bacca in La Liga, he has surprisingly performed well for Villareal in the Europa League. He has had six appearances under his belt in the Europa League and has managed to provide five-goal contributions including three goals and two assists compared to five goals and no assists in nine appearances in the Spanish top flight. His attacking stats excluding the G/A have been way better in the Europa League when compared to La Liga too.
Bacca has managed 1.5 shots per game compared to 0.9, 0.9 key passes to just 0.2, and 0.5 dribbles per game to just 0.2 when comparing his attacking influence in Europa League to La Liga. He is surely a player to watch out for under Unai Emery as he was vital to Emery’s 2014 & 2015 Europa League successes at Sevilla too.
On the other hand, Edinson Cavani has been an excellent free signing for Manchester United. In the absence of Anthony Martial due to injury and bad form, the 34-year-old has stepped up for the Red Devils and proved once again that class is permanent. The Uruguayan has been in excellent form be it as a member of the starting XI or be it from the bench. He also scored four times over the course of two legs in the Europa League semi-finals against Roma while also assisting twice in the first leg.
Cavani has also scored six goals in his last six games for United in all competitions while also assisting his teammates thrice. He will be vital to United’s performance in the final third and should be the one for Villareal to look out for especially.
Gerard Moreno vs Marcus Rashford
Spaniard Gerard Moreno has been probably the most influential player in this Villareal side this season. He has not only performed well in the Spanish top flight but has been very consistent in the Europa League as well. He has enjoyed his best-ever season in La Liga this season under Unai Emery while scoring 23 goals in just 33 games and also assisting 7.
Moreno was the second-highest goalscorer in the league only to fall behind Lionel Messi with a massive difference of 7 goals. He has also enjoyed a healthy Europa League campaign in which he has scored 6 and assisted 3 in 11 games. The Spaniard is surely a player to watch out for given the fact that his performances have earned him an international call-up for Spain for the upcoming Euros.
For United, Marcus Rashford is the key figure in attack who has the ability to not only score goals but create them as well. The Englishman has enjoyed two of his best-ever seasons in the past two years under Ole Gunnar Soslkjaer despite playing with injuries. He has not only scored 11 goals in the league this season but has also provided his teammates with 9 assists.
Rashford is also a player who is a proper fox-in-the-box and is also capable of drawing fouls in the opposition’s box while dribbling past his opponents. Unai Emery would be aware of Rashford’s threat from his Premier League days and will aim to close him down in order to prevent him from scoring or even creating a goalscoring chance.
Dani Parejo vs Bruno Fernandes
Dani Parejo has been a top-quality midfielder for quite a few seasons now. It is safe to say he is underrated by quite a lot of football fans all over the world. He has been a proper influence in Villareal’s midfield and is the most important player for Villareal to transition their defense into their attack.
Though he doesn’t contribute much defensively, he is an excellent set-piece taker, passer of the ball, leader, and an all-in-all orchestrater of the team. Even though he has managed no goals and just two assists in his eleven Europa League appearances this season, he will be a player to look out for Ole’s men in order for United to prevent Villareal’s counter-attacks.
Bruno Fernandes, since the past two seasons, has consistently proved himself to be one of the best players in the world. In this season of the Premier League, he has produced an output of 30 goal contributions in 37 appearances with 18 goals and 12 assists. He has also finished as the third-highest goalscorer in the league despite being a midfielder and has also finished second in the Premier League assist rankings in the 20/21 season.
When it comes to Europa League, he has still been one of the very best in the competition with 5 goals and 4 assists in just 8 appearances for the Red Devils. He is United’s most important player and to prevent United from creating goalscoring chances, Unai Emery’s men will have to keep a close eye on him which is not a very easy job.
Raul Albiol vs Victor Lindelof
At 35, Villareal’s Raul Albiol has been one of the most well-known veterans in Spanish football still playing to this day. With over 3000 minutes of La Liga football under his belt this season, Raul Albiol has been an important figure not only in Villareal’s defense but also in their team as a whole. The Spaniard is a proper leader and commands his teammates to perform well while consistently performing well himself.
Just like Carlos Bacca, Albiol’s performances have been better in the Europa League when compared to his La Liga statistics. He has managed double the number of tackles per game in the Europa League in comparison to the Spanish top flight. Dribbling past him or winning aerial duels against him will not be an easy job for United’s players.
In the absence of club captain Harry Maguire, United needs to rely on Sweden’s Victor Lindelof. Though underperforming in the Premier League, the 26-year-old has been excellent in the Europa League. He is yet to be dribbled past in the competition and is an excellent player to help United transition their defense into their vicious counterattacks.
Lindelof is known for has concentration and passing ability but is also known for his weak tackling which is yet to be seen in this season’s Europa League. He can play excellent long balls to United’s forwards and Unai’s men must be on the lookout for such passes. There is a huge chance that Lindelof goes the whole Europa League campaign without being dribbled past once.