UEFA Europa League final: lowdown on Villarreal
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
What's their pedigree and how did they get here? A closer look at Villarreal ahead of their UEFA Europa League final meeting with Manchester United.
Article top media content
Possible XI: Rulli/Asenjo; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Pedraza; Pino, Capoue, Parejo, Trigueros; Moreno, Bacca
UEFA ranking: 22
UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League finals: 0
Previous best: semi-finals (2004, 2011, 2016)
Liga titles: 0
Copa del Rey: 0
Final league position: 7th
Route to the final
Qualified: 5th in Liga
Group I winners
Round of 32: 4-1 Salzburg (2-0a, 2-1h)
Round of 16: 4-0 Dynamo Kyiv (2-0a, 2-0h)
Quarter-finals: 3-1 Dinamo Zagreb (1-0a, 2-1h)
Semi-finals: 2-1 Arsenal (2-1h, 0-0a)
Overall: P14 W12 D2 L0 F30 A8*
Top scorer: Gerard Moreno, Paco Alcácer (6)
*Includes 3-0 win awarded to Villarreal for forfeited game against Qarabağ on Matchday 6
Why this is their year
The temptation is to talk about the flourishing strike partnership of Gerard Moreno and Paco Alcácer. Or Raúl Albiol, the World Cup winner who has, aged 35, been utterly magnificent this season. Pau Torres? An exceptional left-footed passer.
But it's impossible to ignore the impact of Unai Emery. A Europa League winner three times, runner-up with Arsenal a couple of seasons ago – he was signed to take Villarreal to a final and look what he's done.
Emery can adapt according to circumstances and opportunities, but this season Villarreal have alternated between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 depending on the situation or opponent. Set plays are important, careful husbandry of possession too. But central to this version of the Yellow Submarine is that Emery will analyse to millimetric depth and instruct his team accordingly.
Gerard Moreno Spanish international Moreno is in the form of his life, sheer class in his finishing, brimming with confidence.
Raúl Albiol The defender has returned from several years in Serie A ever more competitive, smarter, oozing leadership, brilliant in the air, and looking several years younger than his passport age.
Pau Torres A 24-year-old centre-back with a wand of a left foot attracting attention from several of Europe's leading lights.
The club hails from Vila-real, a small Valencian town (population: 50,000) most famous for its ceramic tile industry before the Yellow Submarine surfaced for their top-flight debut in 1998. By 2006 a team featuring Juan Román Riquelme, Marcos Senna and Diego Forlán were UEFA Champions League semi-finalists, finishing runners-up in the Liga in 2007/08.
In Gdańsk, Villarreal will be aiming to add the UEFA Europa League silverware to a trophy cabinet currently occupied by two UEFA Intertoto Cups and the 1970 Spanish fourth-tier title.