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UEFA Europa League final: Villarreal vs Manchester United

Villarreal will face Manchester United in this season's UEFA Europa League final.


Villarreal (ESP) 

UEFA ranking: 22
UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League finals: 0
Previous best: semi-finals (2004, 2011, 2016)

This season
Entry: group stage
P13 W11 D2 L0 F27 A8
Top scorer: Gerard Moreno, Paco Alcácer (6)
Current league position: 6th

Highlights: Villarreal 2-1 Arsenal (2 mins)
Highlights: Villarreal 2-1 Arsenal (2 mins)

Route to the final
Qualified: 5th in Liga
Group I winners
Round of 32: 4-1 Salzburg
Round of 16: 4-0 Dynamo Kyiv
Quarter-finals: 3-1 Dinamo Zagreb
Semi-finals: 2-1 Arsenal

Why this is their year
The temptation is to talk about the nourishing 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.

Great Villarreal Europa League goals
Great Villarreal Europa League goals

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.

Key players: Gerard Moreno & Raúl Albiol
Spanish international Moreno is in the form of his life, sheer class in his finishing, brimming with confidence. This category should be his and his alone, but then there is 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.

Celta Vigo (h, 09/05), Valladolid (a, 13/05), Sevilla (h, 16/05), Real Madrid (a, 23/05), Man Utd (n, 26/05)

Manchester United (ENG)

UEFA ranking: 8
UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League finals: 1
Previous final appearance: W 2-0 vs Ajax (2017)

This season
Entry: round of 32
P8 W5 D2 L1 F18 A6
Top scorer: Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani (5)
Current league position: 2nd

2017 final highlights: Ajax 0-2 Man. United
2017 final highlights: Ajax 0-2 Man. United

Route to the final
Qualified: Transferred from UEFA Champions League
Round of 32: 4-0 Real Sociedad
Round of 16: 2-1 AC Milan
Quarter-finals: 4-0 Granada
Semi-finals: 8-5 Roma

Why this is their year
Last season's semi-final defeat by Sevilla hurt Ole Gunnar Solskjær and his players. United had paid a heavy price for their profligacy – and are determined not to make the same mistakes this time, as evidenced by their ruthless first-leg display against Roma as they look to end their longest run without a trophy since the 1980s.

Highlights: Man. United 6-2 Roma (2 mins)
Highlights: Man. United 6-2 Roma (2 mins)

Solskjær normally sets his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation but has been known to deploy a 3-4-1-2 system, and has even experimented with a 4-4-2 diamond.

Key player: Bruno Fernandes
His goals and assists – 26 and 17 respectively in 53 appearances this term – speak for themselves, but Bruno Fernandes's leadership qualities are no less important to this United side.

Aston Villa (a, 09/05), Leicester (h, 11/05), Liverpool (h, 13/05), Fulham (h, 18/05), Wolves (a, 23/05), Villarreal (n, 26/05)