If Manchester United’s players had performed with the same intensity as some of them showed when melodramatically removing their runners-up medals on the podium, then a penalty shootout would not have been necessary.
Their Europa League final defeat on Wednesday might have just been one of those odd, flat performances that can happen, particularly to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team.
But if, for one moment, they underestimated Villarreal, if they were cocky in any way, then who could blame them?
If they thought, even only momentarily, it was going to be a formality against a team that finished seventh in La Liga, that’s understandable.
Because the messages sent by the board room during the Super League fiasco – and for so many years before that – was that small clubs such as Villarreal have no place on the same park as commercial giants such as Manchester United.
The entire population of the town represented by Unai Emery’s side would fit inside Old Trafford and there would still be 25,000 empty seats.
No wonder the supporters in yellow in Gdansk actually looked as incredulous as they did so wonderfully joyous.
Those were marvellous scenes the likes of Manchester United wanted phasing out.
Don’t forget, the two clubs that will contest the Champions League final in Porto on Saturday night were of the same mindset as United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs.
Chelsea and Manchester City might have to play Villarreal in next season’s Champions League, a scenario their executives did not want when they signed up, albeit briefly, to the Super League.
That Villarreal disposed of another member of the Shamed Six, Arsenal, in the semi-final, makes their Europa League victory all the sweeter.
Villarreal’s Francis Coquelin described the win as a ‘fairytale’ and although the Spanish club’s owner has invested seriously in personnel, it WAS a fairytale.
The Super League idea was nothing to do with them but their owners gave them the idea they are some sort of footballing royalty.
Jose Mourinho uses Man Utd excuse after Roma suffer European embarrassment
Thursday night was a low point in the managerial career of Jose Mourinho as his Roma crashed to a humiliating 6-1 defeat against Bodo/Glimt.
Mourinho’s side were strong favourites going into the Europa Conference League encounter but were humbled by the Scandinavian hosts, who blew them away in the second half.
It was the first match of Mourinho’s entire managerial career – which has spanned over 1,000 matches – that he had overseen his side concede six goals or more in one match.
That it came against a team who had significantly fewer resources than his own and were huge outsiders for the match, made it all the more painful.
Striker Erik Botheim and midfielder Patrick Berg had given Bodoe/Glimt a two-goal advantage in the first half, but Carles Perez pulled one back for Roma – who were then expected to launch a fighting comeback.
Instead, the Italian side collapsed in the second half as Botheim added two more goals to complete his hat-trick while goals from Amahl Pellegrino and Ola Solbakken piled the misery on the visiting team.
The Portuguese boss was predictably in an awful mood after the defeat and did not hold back on his criticism of the players that he selected for Roma.
Mourinho explained on Sky Italy: “The initial XI of today of Bodo Glimt had better quality than us. Now you can stop asking why we play always the same players.
“I did it with good intentions, to give an opportunity to those who work hard and to rotate the squad on a synthetic pitch in cold weather. I decided to rest many players.
“If I could always play with the same XI, then I would. It’s risky, because we have a huge gap in quality between the two groups of players.
“I knew the limits of this squad, it is not new to me, but I still expected a better response.
“As I said, it’s my choice to play them, so my responsibility.”
This is the same excuse that the Portuguese boss used during his tenure at Old Trafford, when he claimed that a poor loss for United away against Brighton actually vindicated his approach.
Mourinho said in the aftermath of the loss in Brighton: “For 10 months I get asked ‘why always Lukaku? Why always Lukaku? Why always this player?’
“‘That guy doesn’t have a chance to start, the other one is on the bench’. You know why now.”
Thursday night’s result mean that Mourinho’s Roma side have now lost three of their last five matches in all competitions, following on from painful Serie A defeats against fierce city rivals Lazio and Juventus respectively.
De Gea told ‘he just stands there’ by Mkhitaryan after Roma vs Man Utd
After beating Roma 6-2 in the first leg at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were expected to breeze through to the final in Gdansk.
A 3-2 loss on the night and an 8-5 victory on aggregate doesn’t sound particularly nervy but they had De Gea to thank for keeping Roma at arm’s length – quite literally.
The Spaniard has found himself behind Dean Henderson in the Man Utd goalkeeping pecking order in recent months but was given a start against the Italian club on Thursday.
And he responded by making an incredible 10 saves during a Man of the Match performance to seal United’s passage to the final.
Nine of those 10 saves were made inside the penalty area as De Gea showed off his incredible reflexes.
“We kept losing the ball in difficult positions but luckily we have got one of the best goalkeepers in the world,” Solskjaer told BT Sport after the match.
“David was vital and was man of the match for me. He was the stand-out performer. The final is still three weeks away and we’ve got many games still to play.
“David has put a very good application in of course with his performance. The proof is always on the pitch. You’ve got to perform, and you keep your place in the team when you play well.”
However, not everyone was willing to heap praise on De Gea after the match.
Former Man Utd player Henrikh Mkhitaryan played 90 minutes for Roma and was denied on a number of occasions by his former teammate.
There was one save in the second half that left the Armenian incredibly frustrated. Mkhitaryan met Pedro’s cross and, from three yards out, somehow managed to kick the ball straight at the goalkeeper as he rebounded off De Gea’s legs and away from danger.
But, after the match, Mkhitaryan appeared to have found the answer.
As Juan Mata points to De Gea in response to his incredible saves, the Roma midfielder can be heard exclaiming ‘He just stands there’ before giving the shot-stopper a little look.
A few more for the #DaveSaves scrapbook 📕
Unreal tonight, @D_DeGea! 🧤
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) May 6, 2021
Claiming De Gea ‘just stands there’ is doing him a massive disservice. Yes, he may have been fortunate that some of Roma’s efforts were straight at him but he ensured he was always in the right position and made himself big to make those saves.
Perhaps if Mkhitaryan and his teammates had their shooting boots on, they would have been having a very different conversation at the final whistle.
Villarreal defender Pau Torres thrilled to reach Europa League final: Emotional moment
Villarreal defender Pau Torres is thrilled to have reached the Europa League final.
Torres said, “Tonight I cry with joy instead of disappointment as in 2006. Villarreal have missed so many opportunities to reach the final, but now we have finally done it.
“It’s an emotional moment for the whole club, the fans, the president and the whole team. We all deserve it.
“We have to enjoy the moment, but then it is important to prepare for the final, because it is a historic opportunity.”
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