The occasion is set, Villarreal and Manchester United will battle it out for the right to be crowned UEFA Europa League Champions in a mouth-watering clash in Poland . But let’s look back at the Spanish clubs journey to the final starting all the way back at the beginning, the group stages, and going right the way to the final.
Villarreal were drawn in Group I of the 2020/21 Europa League alongside Sivasspor, Qarabag and Maccabi Tel-Aviv a fairly comfortable group the Spaniard should have easily topped. To say they walked the group would be an understatement, the yellow submarine collected 16 points from an available 18, scoring 17 goals and only conceding five with three coming inside one match. They began their journey with a 5-3 thrilling home win against Sivasspor which they followed up with a 3-1 win at Qarabag then another home win this time a 4-0 thrashing on Maccabi Tel-Aviv. The return fixture with Tel-Aviv ended in a 1-1 stalemate meaning Villarreal needed only one final win to progress to the knockout rounds. A dull 1-0 win in Turkey vs Sivasspor was enough for the Spaniards to get over the line in the group, with a game remaining they were guaranteed to top the group no matter the outcome of the final round of fixtures. To round out the group they gained a forfeit victory against Qarabag as the side couldnt feature a full squad due to COVID-19 cases in their squad. . The player of the group stage for Villarreal was between Carlos Bacca, Paco Alcacer and Samuel Chukwueze all playing massive parts in goals and assists for the Yellows as they fired themselves to the knockout stages.
Round of 32 ( RB Salzburg)
As a reward for topping their group Villarreal got a very tough draw against one of the sides that dropped down from the Champions League in RB Salzburg. It was set to be a good clash on paper with Salzburg impressing against the likes of Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid this season. The first leg was an away tie for Villarreal which they played very professionally in running out comfortable 2-0 victors in Austria. Goals from Paco Alcacer and Fernando Nino gave the away side two crucial away goals to take back to Spain. The second leg started in the worst possible way for the Spaniards however with Salzburg grabbing the first goal in the 17th minute through Mergim Berisha, it was cancelled out in the second half when a Gerard Moreno double added an extra comfort barrier for Villarreal and they advanced to the last 16.
Round of 16 (Dynamo Kyiv)
A tie that on paper looked like a walk in the park for the Yellow Submarines turned out to be exactly that as they thrashed Kyiv 4-0 on aggregate to progress to the next round. The first leg was another comfortable 2-0 away win with goals from the centre-backs, Pau Torres and veteran Raul , the second leg followed similar suit with another 2-0 win and another double from number nine Gerard Moreno. Villarreal looking like real dark horses in the competition just because of how much experience they have inside their squad mixed with a fine blend of youthful talents.
Quarter-Finals (Dinamo Zagreb)
This tie was a much more difficult task for the Yellows as they were drawn against a resilient and valiant Zagreb side that had fought back from a 2-0 deficit against Tottenham to beat them 3-0 at home and send them packing. Zagreb came into the first leg full of confidence but lacked sharpness and killer instinct in front of goal and the clinical nature of Villarreal despite having only a few chances found their goal through a Gerard Moreno penalty just before half-time, Villarreal walked out of Zagreb 1-0 winners with an away goal to their names. The second leg was looking like following a similar pattern to the first game with Villarreal 2-0 up at half time thanks to clinical finishing while Zagreb couldn’t finish anything to save their lives, the goals from Alcacer and Moreno had Villarreal breathing comfortably. A late consolation for Zagreb wasn’t enough to spark another historic comeback and Villarreal sent them back home after a 2-1 victory in Spain.
Well this was supposed to be it for Arsenal, revenge on Unai Emery for his time as manager of their club. This was Arsenal’s biggest two games of their season and they needed to somehow get their foot in the final and have a chance of European football next season, there was only one problem for them however. Standing in front of them was a side that had only conceded two goals since advancing to the knockout stages of the competition and were looking like a real force in this years competition. The English side traveled to Spain for the first leg hoping they could get out with a good result to take back to the Emirates a week later. The tie started in the worst possible way for the Gunners when Villarreal took an early lead through Manu Trigueros’ effort just inside the box in the 5th minute. The Yellow submarine were dominant in the first half and looked like they could score on every attack, they finally did double their lead when Raul Albiol volleyed home their second just before the half hour mark. At half-time it was 2-0 to Villarreal who looked like they were trying to end this tie off in the first leg with their rampant football causing Arsenal more and more problems. It went from bad to worse for the English side when Dani Ceballos was sent off for a second yellow card just after half-time giving Villarreal a massive boost. Arsenal then began to pick up a little bit of momentum and were given a penalty which Nicolas Pepe dispatched into the corner of the net to give them a crucial away goal. Etienne Capoue was then embroiled into controversy when he went down injured after he crunched into a tackle, as he was being helped onto the stretcher the referee reached for his cards and sent Capoue off with a second yellow. It was all set up for a second leg well in the balance at the Emirates, but to say it was dull would be an understatement. Both sides played out a bore fest 0-0 draw with Arsenal failing to sink the Yellow Submarine as they sailed into the Europa League final in Gdansk.
Who will lift the Trophy?