Last season’s Europa League final defeat to Villarreal will stick long in the memory of some Manchester United supporters. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will feel he deserved to celebrate a trophy after an improvement in his second full season at the club.
It wasn’t to be, however. Instead, Unai Emery’s Villarreal stole the glory on penalties, and the United players were left with their heads in their hands. To say that that night in Gdansk was a wake-up call for everyone involved would be an understatement.
Solskjaer’s side was turgid, complacent, and simply not up for the final. They dominated possession but failed to break down the resilient Spanish side, a reoccurring theme throughout the 2020/21 campaign.
The two sides meet again this evening and Solskjaer’s team selection in this season’s re-run of last season’s final pinpoints a clear change from that 120-minute affair.
Almost half of the team that lost that final has been replaced for this evening’s encounter, with only six players remaining. David de Gea, Victor Lindelof, Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood, and Bruno Fernandes are the only survivors.
Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, and Eric Bailly have all been replaced by summer signings or excluded due to injury.
Solskjaer’s selection could also point towards a change in the system, with the exclusion of his infamous ‘McFred’ midfield signalling an attacking intent rather than trying to stop the opposition – but that remains to be seen.
Clearly, there is a desire to bury some of the demons from the 26th of May and with roughly an hour remaining before the game kicks off, Solskjaer has done his utmost to please the supporters.